Lead author Alex Thiele, professor of Visual Neuroscience at Newcastle University in England, said by changing the way neurons respond to external stimuli people could improve their perceptual abilities.
While these changes could affect the strength of a neuronal response, they could also affect the fidelity of that response, Thiele said.
"When you communicate with others, you can make yourself better heard by speaking louder or by speaking more clearly. Neurons appear to do similar things when we're paying attention. They send their message more intensely to their partners, which compares to speaking louder. But more importantly, they also increase the fidelity of their message, which compares to speaking more clearly," Thiele said in a statement.
"Our earlier work has shown that attention is able to affect the intensity of responses -- in effect the loudness -- by means of the brain chemical acetylcholine. Now we have shown that the fidelity of the response is altered by a different brain chemical system."
Thiele's team revealed the quality of the response was altered by means of glutamate coupling to NMDA receptors -- a molecular device that mediates communication between neurons. Carried out in a primate model, these studies for the first time isolated different attention mechanisms, Thiele said.