Now that we know some of the anatomy, let’s look at the behavioral applications of what we know. Take a look at the figures and read them from left to right. Which one is not like the others? We can quickly see which figure is out of place. Our eyes jump right to it.
How did we know which one was the oddball figure without anyone telling us what it looked like? We had already established a baseline that our initial figure was the normal figure. And when the outlier was presented, we knew right away that it didn't belong.
This experiment is a common attentional process test called the oddball paradigm. A baseline is presented through repetition, then an oddball is presented. This should remind you of our Known-to-Unknown formula that I mentioned earlier. By creating a strong baseline, when the oddball—or an unexpected twist or climax—occurs, we are prepared for it and enjoy it.
Our brain is processing the information based on our experience of the information input. Below is a figure of an ERP, or event-related potential. ERPs are averaged waveforms that measure electrical activity from your scalp. We can use them to measure reaction speed to attentional processing.
Olichney, Nanakul, et al. 2012
In the left figure, we see our brains when presented with standard stimuli (each tick mark is 100ms). You see that we have relatively flat lines after the initial peak. The flat lines are expected because standard stimuli are essentially noise, and our mind zones out because it has been normalized.
The figure on the right shows the oddball—or target—tone with a peak of 300ms (also known as a P300). This peak is from our brain detecting the oddball and concluding that this is the item to pay attention to. This peak is only possible through having established a clear baseline.