Imagine that you would perceive every detail of your environment with equal intensity: the noise of traffic, your neighbour’s phone call, dogs barking, every background noise, as well as every detail within your field of vision. How much energy would it cost you to concentrate on your studying or work? The capability we have to select what we pay attention to, and to block out distractions, reveals something about our attentional systems, a topic of great interest to psychologists.
In the scientific literature, there exists an effect that is known as sensory entrainment. Simply put, your brain tends to synchronise its activation with rhythmic input from the environment. It is also known that brain activation at alpha frequency (8-12 Hz) corresponds to a resting state; this pattern of activity will be observed when you are not paying attention. In our present study, we aimed to entrain either the left or right side of participants’ brains, by presenting flickering stimuli (lights) to the left or right side of a fixation point. Sometimes the flickering stimuli appeared in an alpha frequency, and sometimes it was completely arrhythmic. We then measured reaction time to a target that appeared on the same side of the fixation point as the flickering. It has been shown before that, when participants are entrained to alpha frequency, their ability to detect a target is impaired.
The novel aspect of our study is that we include distractors. We are curious to find out if reaction times change when distractors and entrainment are present separately, as well as what happens when they both occur. With this study, we hope to add to the understanding of attentional processes.
– FPN Research Practical Group 12a