— Motivated Cognition Lab

Applications invited for the CIMEC Masters program. Here are a poster and brochure providing details.

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Weaver, Hickey, & van Zoest (2017). The impact of salience and visual working memory on the monitoring and control of saccadic behavior: An eye-tracking and EEG study. 

In a concurrent eye-tracking and EEG study, we investigated the impact of salience on the monitoring and control of eye movement behavior and the role of visual working memory (VWM) capacity in mediating this effect. Participants made eye movements to a unique line-segment target embedded in a search display also containing a unique distractor. Target and distractor salience was manipulated by varying degree of orientation offset from a homogenous background. VWM capacity was measured using a change-detection task. Results showed greater likelihood of incorrect saccades when the distractor was relatively more salient than when the target was salient. Misdirected saccades to salient distractors were strongly represented in the error-monitoring system by rapid and robust error- related negativity (ERN), which predicted a significant adjustment of oculomotor behavior. Misdirected saccades to less-salient distractors, while arguably representing larger errors, were not as well detected or utilized by the error/ performance-monitoring system. This system was instead better engaged in tasks requiring greater cognitive control and by individuals with higher VWM capacity. Our findings show that relative salience of task-relevant and task- irrelevant stimuli can define situations where an increase in cognitive control is necessary, with individual differences in VWM capacity explaining significant variance in the degree of monitoring and control of goal-directed eye movement behavior. The present study supports a conflict-monitoring interpretation of the ERN, whereby the level of competition between different responses, and the stimuli that define these responses, was more important in the generation of an enhanced ERN than the error commission itself.

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Weaver, van Zoest, & Hickey (in press). A temporal dependency account of attentional inhibition in oculomotor control. Neuroimage. <link>

We used concurrent electroencephalogram (EEG) and eye tracking to investigate the role of covert attentional mechanisms in the control of oculomotor behavior. Human participants made speeded saccades to targets that were presented alongside salient distractors. By subsequently sorting trials based on whether the distractor was strongly represented or suppressed by the visual system – as evident in the accuracy (Exp. 1) or quality of the saccade (Exp. 2) – we could characterize and contrast pre-saccadic neural activity as a function of whether oculomotor control was established. Results show that saccadic behavior is strongly linked to the operation of attentional mechanisms in visual cortex. In Experiment 1, accurate saccades were preceded by attentional selection of the target – indexed by a target-elicited N2pc component – and by attentional suppression of the distractor – indexed by early and late distractor-elicited distractor positivity (Pd) components. In Experiment 2, the strength of distractor suppression predicted the degree to which the path of slower saccades would deviate away from the distractor en route to the target. However, results also demonstrated clear dissociations of covert and overt selective control, with saccadic latency in particular showing no relationship to the latency of covert selective mechanisms. Eye movements could thus be initiated prior to the onset of attentional ERP components, resulting in stimulus-driven behaviour. Taken together, the results indicate that attentional mechanisms play a role in determining saccadic behavior, but that saccade timing is not contingent on the deployment of attention. This creates a temporal dependency, whereby attention fosters oculomotor control only when attentional mechanisms are given sufficient opportunity to impact stimuli representations before an eye movement is executed.

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Daniel Schneider (second from the right) is on a short sabbatical from the ifADo, Dortmund (Leibniz Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors). Welcome Daniel!

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In collaboration with Laura Battelli’s lab, first time we’ve used a stimulation technique…

van Koningsbruggen, Ficarella, Battelli, & Hickey (in press). Transcranial random noise stimulation potentiates value-driven attentional capture. Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Reward feedback following visual search causes the visual characteristics of targets to become salient and attention-drawing, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying this value-driven capture effect. Here we use transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) to demonstrate that such reward potentiation involves induced plasticity in visual cortex. Human participants completed a feature-search reward-learning task involving the selection of a red or green colored target presented among distractors of various color. Each correct trial garnered reward and the magnitude of reward was determined by the color of the target. Three groups completed this task: two groups received tRNS over either occipital or frontal cortex, and the third group received sham stimulation as a control. In a subsequent test phase of the experiment participants searched for a unique shape presented among colored distractors. During the test phase no tRNS was applied and no reward was available. However, in some trials a single distractor had color matching that associated with reward during training. Search for the target was impacted by the presence of such reward-associated distractors in the occipital stimulation group, demonstrating that plasticity in visual cortex contributes to value-driven attentional capture.



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May 17th, 5:15pm
Session: Attention: Reward, emotion, motivation


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The call for applications to the cimec PhD school has been released.

Deadline is May 10th, 2016, at 4pm.

If you are interested in applying, feel free to email Clayton with questions.




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Hanna Kadel is visiting from the University of Marburg, where she is completing her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Anna Schubö. Hanna will spend about 3 months in Rovereto. Welcome Hanna!hanna

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The deadline for applications is Friday March 11, 2016 at midday.

We anticipate a second call for EU citizens and non-EU residents of Italy with deadline on Friday July 8, 2016 at midday, if places are still available.


Application link: http://www5.unitn.it/Apply/en/Web/Home/master

Summary of the Call in English

Please, find attached a pdf version of the poster advertising the selection call should you want to hang it up in your department/research center.


The CIMeC, the Master’s program and UNITN in numbers:

–          CIMeC ranked 1st in Italy for Quality of Research 2013

–          2015-2016 UNITrento ranks 3rd in Italy in the rankings of THE – Times Higher Education

–          Courses are given in English

–          2 tracks: Cognitive Neuroscience and Language & Multimodal Interaction

–          40 positions, 20 reserved to non-EU students

–          Possibility of funding (scholarship and tuition fee exemption) with Opera Universitaria

–          Joint study programs and other international opportunities

–          According to our recent internal survey, 77% of our graduates are currently employed, 74% of them by pursuing a PhD

–          Why choose UNITRENTO


Please feel free to browse our website www.mcs.unitn.it for further information or contact the Master’s Secretariat at mcs@unitn.it


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