The blog SharpBrains has published an interview with Michael Posner that should be of interest to all parents, but especially those parents whose children struggle with attentional issues. Here's a small sample:
SB: The other main area of your research is attention. Can you explain the brain-basis for what we usually call "attention"?
MP: I have been interested in how the attention system develops in infancy and early childhood.
One of our major findings, thanks to neuroimaging, is that there is not one single "attention", but three separate functions of attention with three separate underlying brain networks: alerting, orienting, and executive attention.
- Alerting: helps us maintain an Alert State.
- Orienting: focuses our senses on the information we want. For example, you are now listening to my voice.
- Executive Attention: regulates a variety of networks, such as emotional responses and sensory information. This is critical for most other skills, and clearly correlated with academic performance. It is distributed in frontal lobes and the cingulate gyrus.
The development of executive attention can be easily observed both by questionnaire and cognitive tasks after about age 3–4, when parents can identify the ability of their children to regulate their emotions and control their behavior in accord with social demands.
SB: "Executive attention" sounds similar to executive functions.
MP: Executive functions are goal-oriented. Executive attention is just the ability to manage attention towards those goals, towards planning.
Both are clearly correlated. Executive attention is important for decision-making (how to accomplish an external goal) and with working memory (the temporary storage of information). For example, given that you said earlier that you liked my monograph, I have been thinking of the subheadings and sections there as I provide you my answers, using my working memory capacity.
Posner also mentions a computer-based attention training program, available here. I'll be investigating the program and will report on it later.