Understanding Your Brain’s Attention System

Learn how stress, mood, and feeling threatened can affect your attention.

Hi, my name is Dr. Amishi Jha, and I’m the director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, and associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami. 

I’m a neuroscientist, and what I’d love to share with you today is a little about the brain science of attention. In this series we’ll be exploring topics of attention and how they relate to mindfulness training—all useful tools for us to use in our own lives.

In my lab, which studies the brain basis of attention, we use a variety of brain-imaging techniques—functional MRI, brain-wave recordings and behavioral measures—to really test how attention works. And we’ve learned a great deal. 

I’d say, most prominently, we’ve learned that attention is an incredibly powerful system. In fact, attention developed because the brain encountered a very big problem: there’s far more information in the world than the brain could possibly ever fully analyze. So, to solve for this information overload, over the course of evolution, the solution became the brain’s attention system. 

Understanding Your Brain’s Attention System Watch the Video: How Attention Functions Within the Brain

Attention allows us to notice and select a subset of information from all that is…


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About the author

Amishi Jha

Amishi Jha is a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Miami and author of a forthcoming book Peak Mind (2021, Harper One) on the science of attention. Her research focuses on the brain bases of attention, working memory, and mindfulness-based training. With grants from the US Department of Defense and several private foundations, her current projects investigate how to best promote resilience in high stress cohorts using contemplative/mind training techniques that strengthen the brain’s attention networks. She was selected as a Science and Public Leadership Fellow by PopTech, and serves on editorial review boards of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Frontiers in Cognitive Science, and Frontiers in Psychology.