Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience
University of Oxford
"The developmental dynamics of attention and memory"
Attentional control plays a crucial role in biasing incoming information in favour of what is relevant to further information processing, action selection and long-term goals. Adult cognitive neuroscience illustrates how attentional processes are best understood not simply as a control homunculus, but rather as bidirectionally influencing and influenced by prior experience. It therefore becomes very useful to place attention and memory dynamics into a developmental context. Indeed, from very early in infancy we are equipped with exquisite attentional skills, whose improvement is coupled with increased effectiveness of control networks. In this seminar, I will discuss our own recent findings on attention and memory interactions in children and young adults. Both behavioural and neural indices suggest similarities and differences in how children and young adults deploy attentional control to optimize maintenance in short-term memory. Influences of attention on encoding into memory are also apparent through the effects that attentional biases have on learning and later recall from longer-term memory. At the same time, attentional effects on memory are not unidirectional: previously learnt information and processing during learning guide later memory-guided attentional deployment, both in adulthood and in childhood. In conclusion, assessing attentional development points to bidirectional influences between attention and memory, whose neural and cognitive mechanisms are yet to be unravelled.