PhD Students

PhD Project Suggestion: Computational Modelling of Attention

Howard Bowman

Humans are very good at prioritising competing processing demands. In particular, perception of a salient environmental event can interrupt ongoing processing, causing attention, and accompanying processing resources, to be redirected to the new event. A classic example of this is the well-known Cocktail Party Effect. Not only are we easily able to follow just one conversation when several people are speaking, but the occurrence of a salient phrase in a peripheral conversation stream, such as somebody mentioning our name, causes auditory attention to be redirected. It is also clear that emotions, motivation and physiological state in general, play a key role in such prioritisation.

The proposed PhD will investigate the construction of computational models of these cognitive phenomena, with particular emphasis on neural level modelling. The modelling work will be guided by (and will also guide) the converging evidence now being made available by behavioural studies and brain mapping (both fMRI and EEG), some of which is being collected in Bowman’s research groups at Kent and Birmingham. A particular focus will be on extending Bowman & Wyble’s Simultaneous Type/ Serial Token model. One possible line would be adding spatial attentional mechanisms to the model and making the model a more complete theory of conscious perception.

Experimentally-led projects could also be undertaken in this area. These would focus on EEG and potentially EEG with fMRI modalities.

Bowman, H. and Wyble, B. (2007). The Simultaneous Type, Serial Token Model of Temporal Attention and Working Memory. Psychological Review 114:38-70.

Wyble, B. et al. (2011). Attentional Episodes in Visual Perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 140:182-196.