Attention, awareness, and action

Every day 7 billion miracles happen, as people wake up, open their eyes, and become conscious. Although the mind is certainly not idling during sleep, waking up does mark the start of an overwhelming stream of information passing through our brains for the rest of the day. Not all that information is processed to the same degree. We only become aware of a minor fraction of the input and do not act on every piece of it. In fact, our brains can be considered a massive filter, mapping a vast sensory world onto a limited memory and a fairly small set of effectors like limbs, eyes, and mouth. Traditionally this filtering function has been referred to as attention. Despite decades of research, however, the relationship between attention, awareness, and action is still far from clear. What is the role of different selection mechanisms in filtering information from complex scenes, what is the role of past and recent experience (as represented in long term memory) versus current goals (as represented in working memory), how do unconscious forms of selection differ from conscious forms, how does selection from perceptual input relate to selection from memory, and how does perceptual selection lead to motor selection, where one action needs to be chosen from numerous possibilities? Projects aimed at ‘selectivity in information processing’, either in animal experimental or in human brain studies are both eligible.

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