Washington: The brain re-routes traffic within itself to maximise alertness and make the best of our knowledge of situations.
"In order to behave efficiently, you want to process relevant sensory information as fast as possible, but relevance is determined by your current situation," said Joy Geng, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California Davis Centre for Mind and Brain.
For example, a flashing road sign alerts us to traffic merging ahead; or a startled animal might cue you to look out for a hidden predator.
Geng and co-author Nicholas DiQuattro, graduate student in psychology, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in volunteers carrying out a simple test, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.
They compared their results to mathematical models to infer connectivity between different areas of the brain. The subjects had to look for a letter T in a box and indicate which way it faced by pressing a button.
They were also presented with a "distractor", another letter T in a box, but rotated 90 degrees, according to a California statement.
The new work shows that the brain doesn`t always "ramp up" to deal with the situation at hand, Geng said.
Instead, it changes how traffic moves through the existing hard-wired network -- rather like changing water flow through a network of pipes or information flow over a computer network -- in order to maximize efficiency.