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Unusual data shed new light on brain and inhibiting behavior

EUGENE, Ore.--(Aug. 16, 2006)--When a child has a problem focusing or acts too quickly with inappropriate behavior, it's enough to drive adults nuts. Thanks to a closer look at unexpected data, University of Oregon researchers may have tapped into a developmentally based explanation for why kids respond as they do.

A study of eye movements of 41 individuals, ages 4 to 29 and divided into four age groups, led to the discovery that younger people simply don't have the ability to ignore secondary targets, even when told in advance, said Paul van Donkelaar in a presentation today at the Brain & Mind Research Symposium of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities in Sydney, Australia.

Van Donkelaar, a professor of human physiology and researcher in the University of Oregon's Institute of Neuroscience, said his team probably was seeing a lack of communication between the frontal cortex and brain stem. "We think the inability to inhibit behavior has to do with the development of the frontal cortex and its ability to tell the rest of the brain to do or not to do something," he said.

The frontal cortex is known to play a role in such things as impulse control, motor function, problem-solving and socialized behavior. The brain stem controls basic activity, such as keeping the heart beating and the lungs breathing.

The research, as yet unpublished, is part of a larger project funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health to van Donkelaar and colleague Marjorie Woollacott. They are studying the interaction of postural control and proficiency in daily living skills, particularly among youngsters with cerebral palsy. In this case, the researchers began looking at how healthy children orient toward an object of interest through eye movements alone.

The study took an unexpected twist when doctoral student Sandy Saavedra reported a high level of multiple saccades, which are rapidly occurring glances toward a seco
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Contact: Jim Barlow
jebarlow@uoregon.edu
541-346-3481
University of Oregon
15-Aug-2006


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