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Feature Match

Test type: Concentration

This is 'Spot The Difference' with a twist. How quickly can you identify when two similar shapes are not quite as similar as they first appear? Try this test to find out.

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About this test

Ever wondered how we find things out from your brain waves?

Can you spot the difference? The feature match is a perceptual task, which requires you to 'concentrate' or 'focus your attention' on complex images. The scientists behind this website have been working to try and understand how we are able to control our attention. One interesting study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of volunteers while they were required to look out for a specific picture (previously shown to them) from a number of different images that were presented. We found that a region in the front of your brain, known as the mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex, responded whenever the image the subject was looking for appeared, even though this image changed regularly throughout the course of the experiment!

We concluded that this region of the brain selectively adapts to represent relevant information, playing an important role in tuning your attention (Hampshire et al 2007). When you do our feature match task, as you concentrate on particular features of the images to compare them to one another, you are activating the mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex within your brain. Pay attention!


This is one example of how useful functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has become in helping us to understand how psychological processes such as attention are instantiated in the brain. But how does all this technology work? In a nutshell, the MRI scanner uses a large magnet and a radio frequency pulse to obtain a picture of the brain. The huge magnet causes the protons in your body to (harmlessly) line up with one another. The radiofrequency pulse gives these protons extra energy to move around freely and as they lose this energy they begin to realign again with the large magnet. It is this realignment which gives us the signal, allowing us to measure the amount of oxygen in blood and, therefore, what areas of the brain are most active. This technique has given a new dimension to psychological experiments, allowing us to understand how the brain functions in a way not previously possible. For a review of the uses of fMRI in psychological experiments, see Owen et al., 2001.

-Owen, A.M. & Hampshire, A (2009). The mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex and attentional control, In Neuroimaging in Human Memory: Linking cognitive processes to neural systems. Edited by Frank Rosler, Charan Ranganath, Brigitte Roder and Rainer Kluwe.
-Owen A. M., Epstein, R., Johnsrude, I. S. fMRI: Applications to Cognitive Neuroscience. In P. Jezzard, P.M. Mathews and S. M. Smith (2001). Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An Introduction to Methods. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

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