Reflections on Bianca de Haan’s seminar “Selective Attention in Multi-Target Environments”

This week our Psychology seminar was given by Dr Bianca de Haan from Brunel University, who came to explain her research on attentional selection in multi target displays. Bianca and I shared an office as PhD students in Nottingham in the early noughties, so I was delighted to have the chance to catch up with her, show off our labs in Durham and hear about her current research. In her talk Bianca presented a series of studies exploring the mechanisms by which we are able to select more than one item in a scene (e.g. when we are required to track multiple moving objects when driving). She began by telling everyone I spent most of my time as a PhD student playing Championship Manager (which is only partly true), then kicked off the science with a study of patients with right brain damage who present with visual extinction, which is their tendency to ignore the leftmost of two simultaneously presented stimuli. She showed that these extinction effects also affected subliminally presented cues. Interestingly, other patients with right brain damage but no extinction also showed disrupted subliminal cueing, indicating that extinction is caused by combination of reduced sensory processing and reduced attentional capacity. I found this quite a striking result, and when Sozaig and I compared notes afterwards we both had the same thought; how do these patients perform when the response is a saccade, not a button press? Bianca then used data from series of neuroimaging studies to argue that the Intraparietal Sulcus is the key anatomical correlate for multi-target selection, and showed that theta-burst TMS over IPS disrupted multi-target selection by reducing the availability of VSWM resources. Interestingly, TMS over TPJ had no effect on selection, despite this region frequently being identified as the locus of extinction by neuropsychological studies. She reflected on some possible reasons for this discrepancy between the neuroimaging and neuropsychological data, concluding that ‘that’s science for you!’. From a theoretical point of view, Bianca’s work is rooted in the Biased Competition view of attention, and during the questions she seemed sceptical of other approaches such as Premotor Theory, although of course there are regions in IPS which code eye-movements. There was also some lively discussion of the nature of the relationship between attention and visuospatial working memory, which Bianca argued were largely the same thing. Overall the talk was very accessible and perfectly pitched for our mixed audience of masters students, PhD students and staff, as was evident by the number of questions at the end. Following the seminar I gave Bianca a quick tour and showed off the Oculomotor Lab, after which Soazig met with her to discuss the MotorBias project. Later in the afternoon we strolled down to the Victoria Inn for Psychology Drinks, then had dinner in the Tapas Factory. I’m really grateful to Bianca for coming up and giving such a thought-provoking seminar which filled my head with lots of ideas for new studies, if only we could find some people with visual extinction…

You can find out more about Bianca’s research here:


No Comments Yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *