Effects of attention and eye movement planning training on cognitive function

This project investigates how attention and eye movement control influence higher cognitive processes, such as executive control, with focus on interventional strategies for patients with neurological damage. One of the major components of attention is top-down attentional control, which is our ability to respond according to our own internal desires. Top-down control allows flexibility over our behaviour to determine whether or not or how much to respond to salient bottom-up sensory inputs that automatically attract attention.

There is evidence suggesting that top-down attentional control degrades in many neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, finding ways to preserve top-down attentional control and prevent degradation could have a major impact on patients’ quality of life. One such means is through training or practice, which has been shown to improve function, possibly strengthening synapses, increasing dendritic strengths and reorganizing cortex. We are currently implementing an eye movement training task that utilizes top-down attentional control. We will study (1) whether people can be trained to regain executive control function and (2) whether benefits of this training will generalize to other cognitive functions.