Towards a science of attention that embraces individual differences

VICI Project EyeMdifferent

Attention allows us to select relevant information from our crowded environment and determines which information is available for further processing in the brain. Attention functions a spotlight, with the size of the spotlight determining whether local or global information is processed. Although we all participate in the same society, our individual differences in the default size of this spotlight result in different views of the world. Since the majority of attention research has been conducted in the West, there is a genuine lack of knowledge on how culture and demographics impact attention. As a result, current models cannot be broadly applied, and neuropsychological tests have limited validity for a large part of our society. EyeMdifferent’s aim is to create the first multi-cultural framework for understanding individual differences in attentional processing.

We will perform large-scale studies on individual differences in attentional processing online, connect these to personality traits and demographics, and incorporate this knowledge into attentional models. We will use these models to test the influence of deteriorations of the spotlight, e.g. due to ageing. Exciting developments in high-field functional imaging will allow us to test whether the size of the attention field in the visual cortex predicts performance on local-global attentional tasks, revealing the neural correlates of these different attentional settings.

Understanding and communicating how individuals differ in attentional processing styles — this neurodiversity — is key to creating an open society that embraces all types of minds. Knowledge from this project can be applied in neuropsychological clinics, disorder diagnosis and new hiring practices to best suit individuals to jobs.