Brain waves may focus attention and keep information flowing | Science News

ADVERTISEMENT

Support Science Journalism

Science News is a nonprofit.

Support us by subscribing now.


News

Brain waves may focus attention and keep information flowing

Studies suggest the oscillations created by nerve cell activity have roles of their own

By
1:00pm, March 13, 2018
brain wave illustration

CATCH A WAVE Created by collections of busy nerve cells, brain waves may help the brain organize information, new studies suggest.

We can’t see it, but brains hum with electrical activity. Brain waves created by the coordinated firing of huge collections of nerve cells pinball around the brain. The waves can ricochet from the front of the brain to the back, or from deep structures all the way to the scalp and then back again.

Called neuronal oscillations, these signals are known to accompany certain mental states. Quiet alpha waves ripple soothingly across the brains of meditating monks. Beta waves rise and fall during intense conversational turns. Fast gamma waves accompany sharp insights. Sluggish delta rhythms lull deep sleepers, while dreamers shift into slightly quicker theta rhythms.

Researchers have long argued over whether these waves have purpose, and what those purposes might be. Some scientists see waves as inevitable but useless by-products of the signals that really matter — messages sent by individual nerve cells. Waves are simply a consequence of collective neural behavior

This article is only available to Science News subscribers. Already a subscriber? Log in now.
Or subscribe today for full access.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from this issue of Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content