News of the WeekNeurobiology

Working Memory Helps the Mind Focus

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Science  02 Mar 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5509, pp. 1684-1685
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5509.1684

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In experiments described on page 1803, cognitive psychologists have pinpointed a surprising new influence on a person's ability to focus their attention: working memory, which is where the brain temporarily stores information used in reasoning and planning. In both behavioral and brain-imaging studies, the researchers have demonstrated that when a person's working memory is occupied, his or her brain cannot filter out distracting sights in a separate attention task--a discovery that may have both public health and medical implications.