How does attention play a role in learning? Trajectories, mechanisms and risk factors

1st December 2020 : 17:00 - 18:15

Category: Webinar

Speaker: Professor Gaia Scerif, University of Oxford

Location: Microsoft Teams Live

Convener: Alex Hodgkiss

Audience: Public

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Abstract

Attentional control plays a crucial role in biasing incoming information in favour of what is relevant to further processing into learning and memory. Today I will focus on three complementary lines of evidence. The first line of work focuses on testing how individual differences in preschoolers’ attentional control predict foundational early learning skills (with a focus on maths) and their change over time. Secondly, I complement this work on individual differences with experimental manipulations in older children and adults, to test more precisely how attention guides how children learn about the meaning of new numerical symbols. The final line of work will centre on children at high risk for attentional difficulties. While I began with a focus on genetic risk, recently I have been fortunate to work with colleagues who study attentional control and early educational outcomes in low-income communities in South Africa. These data suggest that, again, individual differences in attentional control predict early learning, but that there may be unexpected buffering factors associated with better than expected outcomes, even under conditions of very high environmental risk. As a whole, these findings point to the suggestion that attentional control processes are best understood not as a control homunculus, but rather as both influencing and influenced by previously learnt information and development in other cognitive and social domains.

 

About the speaker

I read Psychology at the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) and then trained at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, supervised by Professors Annette Karmiloff-Smith and Jon Driver. In 2003, I became a lecturer in the School of Psychology, University of Nottingham. I have been based in Oxford since October 2006. My research group focuses on the development of attentional control, from its neural correlates to outcomes on emerging cognitive abilities. We combine the study of neurotypical attentional control with research on atypical development: 1) conditions with a well-defined genetic aetiology (e.g., fragile X syndrome); 2) complex behavioural syndromes of mixed aetiology (e.g., AD/HD) and, most recently, 3) high environmental risk in the context of poverty.