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Lunch Hour Lectures: Distracted, confused and unaware – the elusive gift of attention

Kilian Thayaparan24 October 2014

Active brain“I hope you’re not all here for the wrong reason – so distracted, confused and unaware that you can’t pay attention”, Professor Nilli Lavie (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) joked at the beginning of her lecture on the psychology and brain research of attention. One would suspect that among the packed out audience, many (like myself) were in fact there in the hope of a ‘cure’ for the attention difficulties we all face in our everyday lives.

Professor Lavie first provided a succinct yet simple definition of ‘attention’, describing it as a process of gathering our mental resources and focusing on a portion of information around us; a selective focus of our neural and mental processes.

She then posed two specific questions with regards to this: Why at some times are we so distracted that we can’t pay attention? And why at other times do we pay so much attention that we don’t notice important things that are happening around us?

Focusing on her first question, Professor Lavie provided some examples of where distraction occurs in our everyday lives; at work, research has shown that distractions take up 2.1 hours of the working day, whilst on the road, we’re exposed to both internal (e.g. mobile phones, children) and external (e.g. billboards, accidents) distractions.

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UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2014: an overview

ucyow3c2 July 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Jack Moore, BSc student at St Mary’s University

With over 800 people attending and almost 200 posters being presented, there was a real sense of excitement around the halls of the Institute of Education (IoE) where the 5th annual UCL Neuroscience symposium was held on 19 June.

James Rothman

Professor James Rothman

With so many people at the event, and so much being presented, it was a great opportunity to discover what other researchers have been doing and share thoughts on the latest developments. Over the years the event has only got bigger, with the entry queue this year winding all the way up the stairs of the IoE.

The day began with last year’s Nobel Prize winner, Professor James Rothman (Yale University), giving a thought-provoking opening keynote speech on how calcium controls neurotransmitter release to a packed auditorium of both students and staff. As Professor Rothman is a Professorial Research Associate in the UCL Institute of Neurology, it seemed a fitting way to begin a symposium in which such a diverse and successful domain get a chance to come together and learn about what is being achieved by different institutes and laboratories.

After the applause for Professor Rothman had quietened down, everyone finally had a chance to see all 180 posters on offer at the event. Dr Martine Groen, who was on the panel deciding this year’s Laboratory Poster Prize, told me the winning poster would have to be one that was nice to read and walk through, making clear what the research question is and why it is interesting.

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Mirror mirror, on the wall…

news editor15 May 2013

Brain for Georgie blog post

The two hemispheres of the brain and their
various functions

pencil-iconWritten by Georgie Chesman, Graduate Trainee in UCL Communications and Marketing.

A workshop encouraging doodling and making a mess? And it’s linked to self-identity? Over 90 minutes, Belinda Stojanovic, a psychologist from UCL Department of Hebrew & Jewish Studies, encouraged participants to engage with art as a way of exploring their self-identity.

The workshop started with an introduction about the workings of the brain. Two hemispheres of the brain, the left and right, are associated with different cognitive processes, but are mutually dependent and connected via a ‘highway’ of neural pathways.

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And finally…symposium posters and prizes

news editor6 July 2012

In the fourth and final blog post of a series about the UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2012, held on Friday 29 June, Post-doctoral Research Scientists Fiona Kerr and Oyinkan Adesakin (UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing and UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment) highlight the  poster session and various prize winners in words and video.

Poster sessions
Early in your scientific career it can be difficult to find ways of discussing your research, which is often a work in progress, with a wider scientific audience.

Poster sessions provide this opportunity, enabling young scientists to discuss their ideas and obtain feedback on their work without the nerve-racking experience of an oral presentation.

As a poster presenter at this year’s UCL Neuroscience Symposium, I found it to be a particularly engaging experience, obtaining useful advice and being able to discuss my work freely within the safety of the world-renowned UCL Neuroscience community.

The poster session covered a wide-range of neuroscience topics, from the level of the nerve cell to animal behaviour and diseases of the nervous system, showcasing the breadth and depth of neuroscience studied at UCL alone.

Carl Zeiss PhD Poster prize
A particular highlight of the poster session was speaking to Bethan Kilpatrick, proud winner of the Carl Zeiss PhD poster prize in only the first year of her PhD studies.

Bethan’s research aims to find out why Gaucher’s disease (GD), a lysosomal storage disorder, and Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder, are genetically linked. Using cells obtained from skin biopsies, Bethan’s work has shown that there is a change in the way in which calcium is stored in cells from patients with GD compared to people of the same age who don’t have the disease.

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