Centre for Neuropsychological Attention Studies (CNAS)

Research on attention and arousal in the healthy and damaged brain

The Sapere Aude Program, Danish Council for Independent Research

Associate Professor Thomas Habekost (Principal Investigator)
Postdoc Signe Vangkilde
Ph.D. student Ida Dyhr Caspersen
Ph.D. student Annemarie Hilkjær Petersen

Aims and vision

Attention is the psychological function that allows us to select only the most important part of the sensory input for consciousness and action. The study of attention is a classical research area, where much progress has been made over the previous decades. An important step was taken by Bundesen (1990), who presented the Theory of Visual Attention (TVA), a mathematical model that integrates a large part of the theoretical and empirical knowledge of the field. TVA was later developed into a neurophysiological model by Bundesen, Habekost & Kyllingsbæk (2005). A main strength of the TVA model is its cognitive specificity: The theory partitions attentional function into different model parameters that can be precisely measured in psychological tests. Such accuracy is vital for assessing attention disturbances after brain damage, a clinical application of TVA that has led to studies on many different neuropsychological conditions (e.g., Habekost & Bundesen, 2003; Habekost & Rostrup, 2006, 2007). TVA-based studies is currently a very active research field that engages scientific groups at more than a dozen major universities in Europe and North America, which are coordinated in The International TVA Network (see: www.itva.wordpress.com).

Efficient processing of sensory information also depends on arousal, the brain's general level of activation. The relation between arousal and attention is not described in TVA, but at CNAS we aim to develop a theoretical account that integrates attention and arousal across psychological and neurobiological processes. We use a combination of mathematical modeling of cognitive processes and pharmacological manipulations of the brain's attention systems. We also apply our basic theoretical research to study important clinical phenomena, namely attention disturbances in (a) children with ADHD and (b) adult patients with brain damage.