Attention—Voluntary Control of Brain Cells

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Science  24 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6037, pp. 1512-1513
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208564

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Suppose that you were given feedback about the activity of one of your brain cells, so that you could listen to its activity and monitor the electrical impulses it uses to communicate with other neurons. Would you be able to control its activity by changing your thoughts? How would you do it? These are the questions that Schafer and Moore (1) begin to answer on page 1568 of this issue. They show that trained monkeys can increase or decrease the activity of single neurons in the frontal eye field, an area of the cortex involved in generating eye movements (2) and controlling spatial attention. If a monkey shifts attention to a particular location in space, the frontal eye field neurons linked to that location increase their firing rate (3). The study demonstrates a promising technique for elucidating the role of other neurons during cognitive tasks and suggests that “mind control” might be useful in treating brain disorders.