Jackson Colvett, a university fellow working with Julie Bugg, associate professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, won a 2021 Graduate Conference Award from the Psychonomic Society. The award supports research that furthers the Psychonomic Society's mission to foster the science of cognition through the advancement and communication of basic research in experimental psychology and allied sciences.
Colvett’s project, “Revealing Object-Based Attentional Control in a Moving Object Paradigm,” examines how people focus or relax their attention in response to objects with varying amounts of distracting information. Previous research in Colvett’s field has focused on spatial contexts for distractors – how the particular environment or placement of distracting information impacts attentional control. Colvett instead looks at how people organize their experiences of distracting contexts based on objects, not locations. Colvett found that people learned to associate particular levels of focus with given objects – like a phone buzzing with notifications – and were able to maintain those associations, even when the objects changed locations.
“This work expands what is currently known about which contexts participants are capable of associating with relaxed or focused attentional control. So far, the field has focused nearly exclusively on location and spatial contexts, which do not capture the breadth of possible things that we attend to in our real lives,” Colvett said. “The new moving object paradigm we developed for this experiment is flexible enough to be used in several different ways, and we are excited to keep exploring factors that might encourage or discourage people to use contextual information to inform how focused their attention should be.” Colvett noted that this work might have practical implications, for example in designing user interfaces.
The Psychonomic Society gives only twenty Graduate Conference Awards annually. The honor comes with a $1,000 stipend, a ribbon placed on the winning poster at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, and a special notation in the meeting’s abstract book.