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When your attention shifts from one place to another, your brain blinks. The blinks are momentary unconscious gaps in visual perception and came as a surprise to the team of Vanderbilt psychologists who discovered the phenomenon while studying the benefits of attention.

“Attention is beneficial because it increases our ability to detect visual signals even when we are looking in a different direction”, said Assistant Professor of Psychology Alex Maier, who directed the study. “The ‘mind’s eye blinks’ that occur every time your attention shifts are the sensory processing costs that we pay for this capability”.

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Details of their study were described in a paper titled “Spiking suppression precedes cued attentional enhancement of neural responses in primary visual cortex” published online Nov. 23, 2017 by the journal Cerebral Cortex.

“There have been several behavior studies in the past that have suggested there is a cost to paying attention. But our study is the first to demonstrate a sensory brain mechanism underlying this phenomenon”, said first author Michele Cox, who is a psychology doctoral student at Vanderbilt. (1)

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Short islands of unconsciousness in an ocean of consciousness…

We want to pay attention, but we stop looking when turning around.

Walk into the room.

See the chair.

Now turn around.

Is the chair still there?

You know it is. You feel it is. But it is not.

There is nothing behind you anymore.

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Everything is where it was in the first place.

Inside you.

Sit down.

Carefully…

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