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Lunch Hour Lectures: Distracted, confused and unaware – the elusive gift of attention

Kilian Thayaparan24 October 2014

Active brain“I hope you’re not all here for the wrong reason – so distracted, confused and unaware that you can’t pay attention”, Professor Nilli Lavie (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) joked at the beginning of her lecture on the psychology and brain research of attention. One would suspect that among the packed out audience, many (like myself) were in fact there in the hope of a ‘cure’ for the attention difficulties we all face in our everyday lives.

Professor Lavie first provided a succinct yet simple definition of ‘attention’, describing it as a process of gathering our mental resources and focusing on a portion of information around us; a selective focus of our neural and mental processes.

She then posed two specific questions with regards to this: Why at some times are we so distracted that we can’t pay attention? And why at other times do we pay so much attention that we don’t notice important things that are happening around us?

Focusing on her first question, Professor Lavie provided some examples of where distraction occurs in our everyday lives; at work, research has shown that distractions take up 2.1 hours of the working day, whilst on the road, we’re exposed to both internal (e.g. mobile phones, children) and external (e.g. billboards, accidents) distractions.

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Take that Descartes! “How the body shapes the mind”

Rupert P Cole5 September 2012

Here in Aberdeen, the British Science Festival kicked off with a fascinating series of talks on recent research into the way bodily experiences affect even our most abstract mental facilities and knowledge.

UCL’s own Gabriella Vigliocco, professor of psychology, organised the panel. Professor Vigliocco and three fellow professors in the field tackled the mind-body problem – one of the most notorious headaches of Western philosophy.

Mind over grey matter?
Stefano F. Cappa, professor of neurology at Milan’s San Raffaele Scientific Institute, gave the first of the talks. Professor Cappa introduced us to the key questions and experiments in cognitive neuroscience.

If we take for granted that the brain has something to do with the mind, then what is its relation? Alluding to Alan Turing’s computer analogy, Cappa asked is the brain “hardware”; the mind “software,” like a program? If so, how does the brain compute, or problem solve?

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Noam Chomsky: “On the Poverty of the Stimulus”

news editor17 October 2011

Professor Noam Chomsky

Dr Hans van der Koot (UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences) gives a short summary of Professor Noam Chomsky’s recent lecture at UCL.

On Monday 10 October, Professor Noam Chomsky (MIT) gave a presentation in the Department of Linguistics at UCL about the importance of the study of human language to our understanding of the human mind, entitled ‘On the Poverty of the Stimulus’.

A video of the lecture is available below:

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Aufwiedersehen Cheltenham

Frances-Catherine Quevenco15 June 2011

Bags unpacked and a new stack of unread copies of Eureka magazine added to my collection, I look back fondly on my week at the Cheltenham Science Festival. From the beautiful scenery of the English countryside, to my fellow bursary students, to the many intriguing science talks and interactive zones, there is nothing I would not happily do again.

Alongside the many talks held at the festival there were also plenty interactive science activities for young, old, and those somewhere in the middle. My favourite in particular was the “Who wants to be a Science Presenter?” activity in the BBC Science tent, where the Brian Coxes of tomorrow could have a go at presenting a little bit of science of their own and to make things more realistic you were given props, a fake earpiece, and a camera filming you live.

The Discovery Zone in the Town Hall was also a haven of fun and learning. I recall standing wide-eyed amidst a group of fifth graders watching a scientist from Liverpool University demonstrate how to make water into dry powder. I also loved the idea of the Talking Point tent that allowed the audience members and the speakers to congregate, ask questions and lead discussions outside of the lecture. I felt that this made science seem more accessible, especially since the speakers were so open to answering questions.
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