Attention, distraction and cognitive control under load

A central focus of our research concerns the effects of information load on brain mechanisms, psychological functions (perception, conscious awareness, memory and emotion) and behaviour. This research is guided by the framework of our Load theory. Lavie (1995) originally proposed the Load Theory in the mid-nineties to resolve the “Locus of Attentional Selection” debate (Lavie, 2000; 2005; 2010; Lavie & Tsal, 1994 for reviews). This debate started in the late fifties and stirred much research over the years.

Load Theory offered a new approach concerning the nature of information processing that reconciles the apparently contradicting views in this debate regarding the issue of capacity limitsversus automaticity of processing. In Load Theory- Perceptual information processing has limited capacity but processing proceeds automatically on all information within its capacity.

The effects of load on information processing have now been demonstrated in many studies; effects have been shown for visual perception, recognition and memory, behaviour and neural information processing in the brain (Lavie, 2005; 2006; 2010; Lavie et al 2014 for reviews)

A resolution of the long standing attentional debate has now been successfully achieved. Load research also has a wide range of applications to people’s lives, ranging from clinical populations, development and aging through to many aspects of the daily routine life, for example for education and driving.

The type of distracting stimulus matters too.

Our work indicates that some stimuli are particularly distracting! for example distractor faces tend to interfere regardless of how much the current task engages attention. Also whenever an odd visual or auditory stimulus is present it tends to "capture attention".

Another focus of our work is on: Visual Awareness

We investigate the neural mechanisms of awareness using functional imaging and magnetic stimulation, our research on awareness also address the relationship of attention and awareness. This relationship is studied in our lab in experiments showing how inattention can cause "Inattentional Blindness" and "Change Blindness". A new line of our research reveals that attention can also affect the processing of invisible stimuli. See our Current Biology paper about this.

To view a short clip (aired on ABC news) on our work on change blindness click here.