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Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series

The Department of Psychology Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series is a three-day public lecture series sponsored by the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Science. Each year the Department invites a renowned psychologist to present three one-hour lectures. The event is normally scheduled in the fall.


The 42nd Annual Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series
Gaia Scerif : Attentive learning: trajectories, mechanisms and risk factors
Dates : November 18 (@11am & 3pm), 19 (@11am) 2019
Location : ECHA

Gaia ScerifAttentional control plays a crucial role in biasing incoming information in favour of what is relevant to further processing, to encoding into memory and action selection.

Lecture 1(Nov 18 @ 11:00am - ECHA 1-498) :  How does attentional control matter to learning? Longitudinal and experimental approaches at the transition between the preschool and primary school years

In my first seminar, I will focus on describing and understanding the tight relationships between attentional control and emerging cognition in pre-schoolers and primary school children. Early individual differences in executive skills including inhibitory control, maintenance in working memory and selection of task relevant dimensions relate concurrently to emerging learning outcomes (with mathematical skills used as an example here). In addition, longitudinal findings suggests that these same skills predict later maths outcomes. Using experiments that require new learning, I will explore mechanisms underpinning these longitudinal correlations. In combination, longitudinal and experimental data point to a need for a greater mechanistic understanding of attentional control in new learning, and of the role of growing expertise in guiding attention.

Lecture 2 (Nov 18 @ 3:00pm - ECHA 2-420) : Using developmental cognitive neuroscience tools to investigate mechanisms of attentive learning


In this second seminar, I will highlight how, from very early in development we are equipped with exquisite attentional skills, whose improvement is coupled with increased effectiveness of control networks. In childhood, our work suggests that both behavioural and neural indices suggest similarities, as well as differences, in how children and young adults deploy attentional control to optimize maintenance of information in memory. At the same time, attentional effects on memory are not unidirectional: previously learnt information and resistance to distraction during learning guide later attentional deployment, both in adulthood and in childhood. In conclusion, assessing attentional development and its dynamics point to the bidirectional influences between attention, memory and learning.

Lecture 3 (Nov 19 @ 11:00am - ECHA 1-182) : Attentional control development under conditions of high risk: Insights from genetic syndromes and poverty

Can we understand the malleability of attentional control skills, by studying how they develop under conditions of high risk? With the increased availability of genetic testing, multiple genetic alterations have been associated with high risk of inattention and hyperactivity. The first line of research focuses on children with Williams syndrome and Down’s syndrome, to suggest that differences in attention between and within these supposedly homogeneous syndrome groups predict variable learning outcomes in emerging literacy or numeracy. Secondly, I will discuss longitudinal data from young children with fragile X syndrome, associated with the silencing of a single gene and high risk of attention deficits in childhood. Longitudinal findings suggests that early group-level and individual differences in attentional processes predict differences in later behavioural difficulties. Finally, I will review recent evidence about executive function development under conditions of high poverty. As a whole, these lines of work point to multiple influences modulating attentional control skills.


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