Andy Leber Receives 3-Year Grant from NSF
Andy Leber, Associate Professor of Psychology, has received a 3-year, $548,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, titled "Developing a comprehensive profile of attentional control strategy." The project will investigate how and why people differ in how they direct their attention. "Imagine that you're searching for apples in the produce aisle," says Leber. "The best, or optimal, strategy might be to look for red things, while a poor strategy would be to randomly look around until stumbling upon the apples. We've found that people vary immensely in how optimally they direct attention in tasks like these."
Leber says the planned work, which will use a variety of behavioral and eye-tracking methods, will allow his lab to better understand why some people are more optimal than others, with a special focus on subjective effort, or how hard people find it to use attention in the optimal way. Leber further explains, "most people are highly adept at searching for red things, but the people who find it more effortful to adopt this strategy may simply avoid it, figuring that the poorer strategy only slows their search for apples by a few seconds. Of course, the choices we make in scenarios like this can add up over the course of days, weeks, months, etc., possibly scaling up to large differences in how efficiently people function in life."
Leber hopes that a better understanding of attention strategy use can help determine who will be best suited for attentionally demanding jobs, like baggage screening or radar monitoring, and that additional work on attention strategy can uncover training methods to enhance job performance. He further hopes that understanding how people use attention could help better characterize disorders with an attentional component, such as ADHD and frontal-lobe damage, perhaps even opening potential novel paths to treatment.