In the human brain, there are two main attention networks: the dorsal attention network (DAN) and ventral attention network (VAN). Together they work to help us attend to being human.
“The DAN is in charge of directing your attention to something specific, and when it’s active, the VAN is silent. This keeps you focused and limits your distraction. But if you see something that is new, unique, or behaviorally relevant, the VAN will switch on. This give-and-take between the DAN and VAN allows us to reorient our attention to what is most important.”(Patel)
Think of VAN as my brain attending to “learning” and DAN as attending to that which I’ve already “learned.” VAN = Learning, DAN = Learned.
Apparently, according to Patel, the VAN has no equivalent in the primate brain – so far, the VAN has only been found in humans. The researchers also noticed that the DAN had expanded in the human subjects – probably due to enhanced cross talk between the brain hemispheres.
Since VAN is a rather new adaptation, and novel experiences happen far less often than familiar experiences, VAN may not be as influential or engaged as often as DAN. And yet, VAN may also contribute to our amazing human ability to consider, notice, and learn novel ideas and concepts.
As the “new kid on the block,” VAN stands out as a new and useful human brain area. Exercising VAN may be what has moved humanity toward new and exciting horizons. It seems to us that introducing, considering, and learning about new and novel concepts and ideas strengthens VAN and its communication paths with DAN – making us more and more “modern” in the most human of ways.
Even the simple act of drawing my attention to my right brain hemisphere now and then may tend to activate and exercise VAN if only for a moment – still and yet, exercise is exercise… consider the possibilities.
- “Functional evolution of new and expanded attention networks in humans.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Vol. 112, No. 30, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420395112, with corrections. Authors: Gaurav H. Patela, Danica Yang, Emery C. Jamerson, Lawrence H. Snyder, Maurizio Corbetta, and Vincent P. Ferrera. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/30/9454.abstract
- Columbia University Medical Center. (2015, July 16). “Brain network that controls, redirects attention identified.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/296880.php.