The importance of ignoring: Alpha oscillations protect selectivity

Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2014 Jun;23(3):171-177. doi: 10.1177/0963721414529145.


Selective attention is often thought to entail an enhancement of some task-relevant stimulus or attribute. We discuss the perspective that ignoring irrelevant, distracting information plays a complementary role in information processing. Cortical oscillations within the alpha (8-14 Hz) frequency band have emerged as a marker of sensory suppression. This suppression is linked to selective attention for visual, auditory, somatic, and verbal stimuli. Inhibiting processing of irrelevant input makes responses more accurate and timely. It also helps protect material held in short-term memory against disruption. Furthermore, this selective process keeps irrelevant information from distorting the fidelity of memories. Memory is only as good as the perceptual representations on which it is based, and on whose maintenance it depends. Modulation of alpha oscillations can be exploited as an active, purposeful mechanism to help people pay attention and remember the things that matter.

Keywords: alpha oscillations; attention; distraction; ignoring.