Many animals, including humans, can control the firing of certain neurons with conditioning, and researchers now show that this can lead to enhanced attention.

Robert Schafer and Tirin Moore at Stanford University in California trained two monkeys to increase and decrease the firing of neurons in an area of the brain known to be involved in eye movement, the frontal eye field. They then measured the activity at 94 sites in this region while the monkeys performed a visual search task. During the trials in which the monkeys had to increase their neuronal firing rate, their search performance improved in the part of the visual field represented by the controlled part of the frontal eye field, indicating greater attention.

The authors suggest that this may explain why neurofeedback, in which patients are trained to control their neurophysiology, might be able to treat attention deficit disorder.

Science doi:10.1126/science.1199892 (2011)