Attention – the ability to focus on what matters amidst distractions – is crucial in our fast-paced world. Researchers at the Action Control and Cognition Lab at the University of Hyderabad have shed light on how our brains actively control this process, revealing a powerful tool called “distractor suppression.”



Imagine a busy street. Our brains can selectively suppress the flashing lights and honking horns, allowing us to focus on crossing safely. This remarkable ability is goal-driven, meaning we can choose where to “tune out” distractions. However, this superpower has limitations. Reliable clues about where distractions are most likely are key. If these cues are weak or change frequently, our brains switch to a different strategy, like ignoring familiar sounds.

Think of attention as a limited resource. Using this control takes brainpower, and if the task isn’t important enough, our brains might decide to conserve that energy for other things. But the good news is, we can adapt! If the task changes over time, our brains can gradually adjust their “distraction filter” to match the new situation.

This research, published in a significant journal in cognitive science and attention research, Attention, Perception & Psychophysics of the Psychonomic Society USA, underscores the power of clear instructions and consistent expectations in helping us focus. By understanding how our brains manage distractions, we can design better learning environments, optimize workplaces, and even improve our personal productivity.

Vaishnvai Mohite, PhD student at the Action Control and Cognition Lab (ACCL) whose work focuses on studying the role of consciousness in distractor suppression, led this research, along with Dr. Seema Prasad, Maria Reiche Postdoctoral Fellow, TU Dresden, Germany. Prof. Ramesh Kumar Mishra, Head of the Centre for Cognitive Sciences (CNCS) supervised the research and is actively pursuing these questions at ACCL.

Funding: This research was supported by an Institute of Excellence grant to Prof. Ramesh Mishra. Dr. Seema Prasad was supported by an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellowship.

Publication: Mohite, V., Prasad, S., & Mishra, R.K. (2023).

Investigating the role of spatial filtering on distractor suppression. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 1-12.