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    May 2015

    May 3rd, 2015

    Multitasking DR 2015

    A published version of our paper on multitasking is now available and I have attached a copy.

    We also have written a review of recent findings in training for Current Opinion in Behavioral Science.

    .Current Op Behav Sci. 2015

    Since our last post a mouse study designed to test the hypothesis that frontal theta as discussed in the October post causes white matter changes.   Since each group of mice require a month of training results will probably  not be available until late in this year or early  2016.

    We expect to begin our work on skill learning (discussed in October poste)  in mice and humans this summer.



    December 16th, 2014

    Connectivity accept

    Dr. Mary Courage invited us to submit a paper for a Special Issue of Developmental Review on the topic of multitasking.  For many months Mary Rothbart and I have been working to apply the study of attention networks to the multiple issues involved in multitasking.  We reviewed an extensive literature ranging from studies of how hierarchies of goals were implemented by the brain to studies of training by the use of video games and the issue of internet addiction.  We believe we have found and reported in the attached paper some important observations on the multiple issued involved in multitasking.  For example, I edited paper for PNAS which showed that multitaskers were poor  in switching attention.  This seems like a paradox because practice we thought was important for developing the executive attention network important for switching.  We now recognize the possibility that Stanford undergraduates who choose multitasking  (e.g. listening or watching programs while studying) may be high in sensation seeking and relatively low in other features of attention.  In the attached accepted, but not yet published, paper we discuss the literature that seems to provide insight into many issues of multitasking.

    For other projects currently underway check the July, August and October posts


    October 2014

    October 28th, 2014

    WM hypothesis.pdf

    I have entered into a new phase of research.  In October I published a hypothesis  in Frontiers in Psychology that suggests a molecular hypothesis on how white matter changes might occur from meditation and other forms of learning.

    The paper proposes that the frontal theta found during meditation and in other forms of learning causes a cascade of molcular events that activate dormant oligodendrocytes that leads to increased myelination (pdf above).

    I have received a small grant with Chris Niell to test this hypothesis by exposing the anterior cingulate of mice to theta by use of optogenetics.  We will assay whitematter change and for each of the links in the chain discussed in the paper.

    In addition with Mary Rothbart, Chris Niell  & Yiyuan Tang we have applied for a five year grant to use studies of mice and human to develop a neural basis for the various stages of skill learning posited by Fitts and Posner (1965).

    This work should complement our longitudinal study of attention networks in children, by examaining thei  role of attention networks  in the development of skills.




    August 2014 Update

    August 20th, 2014

    Consult my July page and CV for my other recent activities.


    I have begun the process of editing a four volume series of classic paper in the  field of attention.

    The project is described below

    At the turn of the 20th century Attention was seen as the central topic in human psychology.  One hundred years later the attentional  networks involved in selection of information, maintaining alertness,  self control, and management of emotions have been explored by brain imaging.   Understanding attention has become central to managing our electronic devices, raising our children and obtaining the most from reading, listening and searching our connected world.

    This four volume series provides the basis for understanding the progress made in over a century of empirical studies, theories and application.  The first volume lays out classical problems in the field revealing the limits of attention, creating methods for probing mechanisms related to attention and defining the limits of the field. The second volume examines critical theories that allow computer programs to simulate and predict how attention operates.  The third volume deals with the use of brain imaging, cellular recording and optogenetics to delineate how the brain carries out the functions of attention.  The final volume connects studies of attention to applications including,  connectivity to electronic media, brain based educational programs, economics of decision making, and psychopathologies.

    The volumes will be constructed following extensive consultation with leading investigators of attention and its related fields allowing the selection of important articles from different traditions around the world.  The volumes provide a  broad background in the field frequently missing in the training of new students and thuscould help a new generation of students make advances in basic research and application of  attention.


    Together with Mary Rothbart and Pascale Voelker we  have begun a project to understand the how network and state training lead to improvements in human skill.  The  attached proposal will provide the current background and projected work.

    Washburn rev Aug14

    Research update July 2014

    July 16th, 2014

    Update July   2014

    Colleagues and Viewers:


    I had not updated my website in several years, but have now learned how to do it. During the last few years I have been engaged in several projects outlined below. In these posts I will try to keep updates on what we find and how we are proceeding.


    Origin of Attention Networks

    We have just finished a longitudinal study begun at 7 months in 2004 and finishing in 2013 at age 8.  Among our discoveries in the transition from dominant control by the orienting network during infancy and early childhood to  the executive network at age 3-4.

    Our most recent paper shows that one can predict later network performance as shown on the Attention Network Test from temperament reported by parents at 7 months. Each network has a separate set of predictors.


    Posner, M.I. , Rothbart, M.K. Sheese, B.E. & Voelker, P. (2014)  Developing Attention: Behavioral and Brain Mechanisms.  Adv. In Neuroscience Advances in    Neuroscience Volume 2014, Article ID 405094

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/405094  NIHMSID 596939

    Dev. Attn Adv in Neuro 2014

    Mental Training

    We have been training undergraduates with a version of mindfulness meditation called Integrated Body Mind Training (IBMT).  When compared to relaxation training as a control condition as  little as five days of IBM improves attention and  mood and reduces stress.  After two to four weeks of training diffusion tensor imaging shows changes in white matter, first in axonal density and later in myelination.




    Tang, Y-Y.,Lu, Q., Fan, M., Yang, Y., & Posner,M.I. (2012) Mechanisms of White  Matter Changes Induced by Meditation  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA  109 (26)

    10570-10574  doi10/.1073pnas.1207817109

    PNAS-2012-WM mech




    Educational Neuroscience

    There has been a lot of interest in whether cognitive neuroscience can improve educational outcomes.  We have written two recent reviews on this topic that appeared in the ournal Trends in Neuroscience and Education.  They outline how attention training my improve self regulation and suggest pathways that relate changes in the executive attention network (anterior cingulate gyrus) to areas of the brain related to learning (hippocampus).


    Posner MI, Rothbart, MK.K. & Tang Y. (2013)  Developing self-regulation in earlychildhood. Trends in Neuroscience and Education


    Tines1 final proof

    Posner M.I. & Rothbart, M.K.Attention to learning of school subjects.(2014) Trends in Neuroscience  and Education


    TINE 2 2014 Learning



    Clinical Applications

    We have applied training methods to the study of tobacco addiction.   The results  showed a reduction of 60% in consumption even among those who had no intention to quit.

    This paper may cause a needed re-examination of the role of intention in addiction.  We are undertaking such an examination



    Tang, Y-Y, Tang, R., & Posner, M.I. (2013) Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction. Proceedings of the US National Academy 110/34  13971-13975


    PNAS-Tabacco 2013



    Various editors have asked me to summarize or update earlier paper I had written.  Recent efforts along these lines are mentioned below.


    Petersen, S.E. & Posner, M.I.  (2012)  The attention system of the human brain:20 years after.  Annual Review of Neuroscience 35, 71-89

    Ann review final

    In 1990 Petersen and I had written a widely cited review in the Annuall Review of Neuroscience we recently updated this on the request of the editors after 20 years.



    Posner, M.I.( 2012) Imaging attention networks. Neuroimage   61/2  450-456 doi 10.1016/neuroimage,2011.12.040


    On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Journal Neuroimage I was asked together with Jon Driver to write a review of neuroimaging studies of attention.  Unfortunately Jon Driver past away before he was able to write for this review and the article is dedicated to his memory and contribution

    Neuroimage20th Ann Attn


    Posner, M.I. (in press) Orienting of Attenton  Quarterly Journal ofExperimental Psychology


    In 1979 I delivered the 7th Sir Frederick Bartlett lecture under the title Orienting of Attention it was published in 1980 and has been cited more than 5,000 times the editors asked for an update that is to be published in 2014

    .OofA 20 years later


    Posner, M.I. (2013) The Expert Brain Ch 6 in J.J. Stazewski (ed) Expertise and skill

    Acquisition: The impact of William G. Chase London:Psychology Press

    pp 243-59


    A special event honoring the career of William G.Chase was held.  The resulting book covered developments in the field of expertise related to the work of Chase.  As a former teacher and friend of Chase I was invited to present the paper mentioned above which was published in 2013.  I  feel this review provides a good background in how cognitive neuroscience has and can influence this field.

    Expertise 2013


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    June 30th, 2014

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