According to Liu, if the new image was in the same orientation as the bars the subjects had focused on, the already adapted neurons would be less sensitive to the change and show a "relaxed response." If, however, the scientists showed a picture of the opposite orientation, a different subpopulation of neurons would respond with a flurry of activity. "The cool part," Liu says, "is the clockwise and counterclockwise neurons are all intermingled in the same part of the brain," the primary visual cortex.
"We're starting to understand how you can efficiently find things that you're looking for," Serences says. In addition, he adds, the research is part of "figuring out very mechanistic descriptions of how attention works," which can be used in the future "to develop better tools and better objective measures for diagnosing disorders like ADD and dyslexia."