Research: Perception and cognition, attention and attentional selectivity
The visual world presents far more information to the eyes than we can effectively deal with at any given time. Thus, what we see is determined by what we attend to. Our research examines the factors that determine the focus of attentional selectivity, and also explores the nature of perception outside the focus of attention (i.e., so-called preattentive vision.)
A major theme in our work examines how humans manage to attend to relevant information but also ignore irrelevant information even when it is highly salient. In addition, we are currently exploring the role that learning plays in ignoring distracting information. Recent work from our lab in these areas suggests that inhibition of irrelevant material, rather than enhancement of relevant material is what drives attentional selectivity. Much of this work relies on both behavioral and neuroimaging techniques (especially EEG/ERP), which are conducted in our lab and the EEG/TMS suite within the department.
Many aspects of our work take an interdisciplinary approach to the research process. Therefore, lab members (graduate students and undergraduate researchers) are highly encouraged to build collaborations with other experts at Johns Hopkins University and beyond.
One such successful collaboration examines the factors that enable stimuli to capture attention. For example, stimuli associated with monetary reward have been found capable of capturing attention. We recently found that pictures of energy-dense food can also capture attention (an effect that is eliminated after a subject eats just a small amount of candy). We are currently working with members of the Eating Disorders Group at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and members of the Weight Management Center at the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health to further investigate these phenomenon.
Another fruitful collaboration we have is with the Clinical Neurophysiology Laboratory at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. This research endeavor explores the cognitive and neural underpinnings of distractor inhibition in people with ADHD. In related work, we are also exploring how multitasking differs in children with autism and the role that attentional mechanisms play in those processes. More specifically, we have noted that children with autism have difficulty doing two things at once, when imitating. We are trying to determine whether this limitation is seated in perceptual processes, control processes or in the motor system.