It appears to be that if kids with ADHD get distracted, barn owls do not. On that note, researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore are studying these birds in order to better understand how attention actually works.
Mysore says that, when it comes to paying attention, barn owls have a lot in common with people. They key element here is that, as he says, “when we pay attention to something, we’re not just focusing on the thing we pay attention to. We’re also ignoring all the other information in the world.”
So the million-dollar question is: how does the brain actually help you ignore stuff that’s not the focus of your attention?
Mysore’s lab proceeded to studying owl’s reactions to bursts of noise while it was also being stimulated to engage visually on a given target. That sets up a competition between these stimuli in the midbrain. Mysore, at this point, believes that there are, in the midbrain, neurons that are responsible for distraction suppression.
From an evolutionary perspective, what is interesting here is that the midbrain is associated with walking on all 4 and movements of the eyes in convergence.
Walking on all four, just recently, has been shown to improve cognitive abilities in adults (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167945716300185). As far as ocular convergence, it is actually required to focus on a given target.
Could it be then, that, making sure humans integrate key motor patterns and abilities is a good strategy to maximize cognitive abilities?