St Mary’s Lecturer Presents at Leading Psychology Conference

Dr Lubna Ahmed, Lecturer in Psychology at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham recently presented research exploring visual attention at the annual conference for the European Society for Cognitive Psychology, which took place in Budapest, Hungary from 29th August to 1st September.

The presentation, ‘The Effects of Cognitive Load on Visual Selective Attention’, was based on research conducted by Dr Ahmed in conjunction with Dr Jan de Fockert(Goldsmiths, University of London) and recently graduated St Mary’s student Emma Cox. The presentation included findings published in a peer-reviewed journal, Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics (2012) as well as novel findings collated as part of Emma’s final year dissertation project.

Recent findings suggest that when we have a lot on our minds (i.e. when cognitive load is high) our ability to attend to relevant information and ignore distractions becomes compromised. Evidence from visual attention tests (Flanker task) suggest that the decline in our attention is due to high cognitive load causing a dispersion in the attentional window.

Dr Ahmed’s talk presented findings from two alternative visual attention tests, the Navon and a face processing task, which were conducted to assess this attention dispersion theory. The data from both tasks corresponded with a dispersion in attention as a function of cognitive load.

Dr Ahmed said, “We can all relate to difficulties concentrating on current goals when we have a lot on our minds. Using a variety of visual attention tasks we have demonstrated that our attention becomes more ‘spread out’ when we are cognitively loaded. This draws our attention away from our intended point of focus and increases processing of distracting surrounding information. The findings not only add to our understanding of how visual information processing is affected by cognitive load in general but Emma’s project also demonstrated the impact of this effect on a socially relevant process – the ability to recognise facial emotions ”.