Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Neural Synchrony in Stochastic Resonance, Attention, and Consciousness

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Neural Synchrony in Stochastic Resonance, Attention, and Consciousness

Article excerpt

Abstract

We describe briefly three of our lab's ongoing projects studying the role of neural synchrony in human perception and cognition. These projects arise from two main interests: the role of noise both in human perception and in neural synchrony, and neural synchrony as a basis for integration of functional modules in the brain. Our experimental work on these topics began with a study of the possibility that noise-influenced neural synchrony might be responsible for the fact that small amounts of noise added to weak signals can enhance their detectability (stochastic resonance). We are also studying the role of neural synchrony in attention and consciousness in several paradigms. On the basis of our own and related work by others, we conclude that (1) neural synchrony plays an important role in the integration of functional modules in the brain and (2) neural synchrony is profoundly affected and possibly regulated, in part, by the "noisiness" of the brain.

Résumé Nous décrivons brièvement trois de nos projets en cours dans nos laboratoires qui étudient le rôle de la synchronie neurale dans la perception et la cognition humaines. Ces projets ont été suscités par deux intérêts principaux : le rôle du bruit dans la perception humaine et la synchronie neurale, et la synchronie neurale en tant que base de l'intégration des modules fonctionnels du cerveau. Notre travail expérimental sur ces sujets a débuté par une étude de la possibilité que la synchronie neurale influencée par le bruit pourrait être responsable du fait que de petits volumes de sons ajoutés à des signaux faibles peuvent améliorer leur détectabilité (résonance stochastique). Nous étudions également le rôle de la synchronie neurale dans l'attention et la conscience dans plusieurs paradigmes. Sur la base de nos propres travaux et de travaux connexes par d'autres chercheurs nous concluons que 1) la synchronie neurale joue un rôle important dans l'intégration des modules fonctionnels du cerveau et 2) la synchronie neurale est profondément touchée et possiblement régulée, en partie, par la « bruyance » du cerveau.

One of the main goals of cognitive neuroscience is to understand how the brain implements perceptual processes such as seeing, hearing, and touching, and cognitive processes such as memory, attention, and consciousness, and relates these processes to action. Ever since Hans Berger discovered the alpha oscillation of the human brain using electroencephalography (EEG), scientists and clinicians have used information about ongoing brain activity to inform both their clinical judgment about brain abnormalities such as epilepsy, and also their theories about how the brain implements perception, cognition, and emotion. In our laboratory, we use both EEG and more recently MEG (magnetoencephalography) to reveal brain activity relevant to two important subproblems in cognitive neuroscience: (1) how does the brain integrate the functional modules that implement the various subcomponents of perceptual and cognitive processing so as to achieve a seamless and unitary consciousness, and (2) what is the role of "noise" (random fluctuations) in this system? These studies represent the confluence of three ongoing research streams in our laboratory: (1) the psychophysics of stochastic resonance (the idea that a weak signal can be amplified across a nonlinearity by adding a small amount of noise), (2) the electrophysiology of attention, and (3) the role of neural synchrony in attention and consciousness. We will describe briefly each of these research streams in their own context, and then summarize where we presently stand in our search for answers to the two basic questions we are addressing.

Stochastic Resonance and Neural Synchrony

Generally, we think of background noise (random fluctuations in the environment) as detrimental to signal detection, creating a masking effect that interferes with the ability to process relevant information about a signal. …

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