Mechanisms of attention: implications for brain and behavior

Our attention can be shifted automatically in response to sudden events, such as a hand being raised in a classroom, or can be allocated voluntarily in response to our internal goals and expectations, such as looking left or right before crossing a street. Dysfunction of either type of attentional process may be expressed in a variety of disorders, such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, autism, and attention deficit disorder. Currently, diagnosis and rehabilitation of attention in patients relies on behavioral procedures that were established more than 20 years ago. Jelena Ristic’s recent research, conducted with both children and adults, suggests that these traditional procedures are based on flawed theoretical assumptions and as such, they do not reflect the main properties of human attention. She is currently working towards developing novel behavioral, as well as imaging, methodologies that will capture accurately the key properties of human attention. Results from her basic research will be used to develop more effective diagnostic techniques and rehabilitation programs for patients with attention dysfunctions.