Alpha Waves Close Your Mind for Distraction, but Not Continuously, Research Suggests
Alpha waves were long ignored, but gained interest of brain researchers recently. Electrical activity of groups of brain cells results in brain waves with different amplitudes. The so-called alpha wave, a slow brain wave with a cycle of 100 milliseconds, seems to play a key role in suppressing irrelevant brain activity. The current hypothesis is that this alpha wave is associated with pulses of inhibition (every 100 ms) in the brain.
Mathilde Bonnefond and Ole Jensen (Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen) discovered that when distracting information can be anticipated in time there is an increase of the power of this alpha wave just before the distracter. Furthermore, the brain is able to precisely control the alpha wave so that the pulse of inhibition is maximal when the distracter appears. Indeed, between pulses of inhibition, there is still a window where the brain is excitable.
‘It is like briefly opening a door to look what’s happening outside. This enables us to detect an unexpected but important or dangerous event. But to avoid to be distracted by completely irrelevant information, it is better if the inhibition is active when a distracter is presented. It could be seen as a mechanism slamming the door of the brain on intruders’. The results are published by the scientific journal Current Biology at October 4.