UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Experimental Psychology Seminar : Heleen Slagter, University of Amsterdam

14 May 2024, 1:00 pm–3:00 pm


Joining us from the University of Amsterdam, Professor Heleen A. Slagter invites us to reconsider how attention is typically approached: rather than as a mere sensory filter but as a relational process that optimizes agent-environment interactions based on past experiences.

Event Information

Open to



Antonietta Esposito


85: 26 Bedford Way
26 Bedford Way
United Kingdom

Venue : 
Lecture Theatre G03, 26 Bedford Way (ground floor), London WC1H 0AP

You may also attend virtually via zoom: https://ucl.zoom.us/j/91728380500

Plasticity of the attentive mind

Selective attention is often conceptualized as a mental spotlight that can be directed at will to illuminate any item of interest, acting as a sensory filter that selectively gates goal-relevant information for higher-order processing and conscious representation. Yet, over the past decade or so, it has become clear that our brains continuously predict what sensory signals are likely informative for goal-directed behavior based on the statistics of past agent-environment interactions, and hence, that action-oriented probabilistic learning is a much more pervasive feature of selective attention than generally assumed. In this talk, I will first present findings from several behavioral and EEG studies that reveal how, at the neural level, such probabilistic learning rapidly structures attention: what we automatically attend to or ignore. I will then discuss more recent work suggesting that these attentional biases may be sensorimotor in nature, rendering attention habit-like in character, and that internal attention (in working memory) is similarly structured by past learning and future action. Finally, I will discuss the idea that attention training as cultivated by meditation may provide a method to unlearn to attend or mentally behave in habitual ways. Altogether the work presented in this talk suggests a reconsideration of how attention is typically approached: from a mere sensory filter to a relational process that optimizes agent-environment interactions based on past experiences.
Clare Press

About the Speaker

Heleen A. Slagter

Professor at Universiteit Amsterdam

Director of the Cognition & Plasticity laboratory, Professor Brain, Cognition, and Plasticity at the Department of Applied and Experimental Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

More about Heleen A. Slagter