Dr Sophie Forster

Dr Sophie Forster

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Telephone: 01273 876654
Email: s.forster@sussex.ac.uk

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Sophie Forster

Cognitive neuroscience of attention, distraction and mind wandering

Research in my lab uses cognitive psychology and neuroscience techniques (fMRI and EEG) to study attention across the senses - including less studied senses such as olfaction - as well as attention to our own thoughts, memories and mental imagery. Our research has a particular focus on understanding the mechanisms underlying involuntary attentional phenomena that are common to daily life. For example, why is it that we sometimes become distracted by entirely irrelevant sights or sounds in the external environment, or by our own thoughts? Why do we sometimes fail to notice important things?

The PhD project could address any of the above areas. A particular area of interest is whether theories and methods drawn from the selective attention literature can be applied to explain how we attend to our thoughts – for example, what makes a particular irrelevant thought capture our attention, and why do our thoughts sometimes appear to ‘block out’ the world around us? Projects in my lab could also consider individual differences in attentionally relevant traits (e.g., propensity to hyperfocus or mind wandering) or clinical symptoms (e.g., anxiety or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). A student working in this area should have a background in psychology or cognitive neuroscience and experience with programming is desirable.

Key references

  • Morris, J., Ngai, M. Y. K., Yeomans, M. R., & Forster, S. (2020). A high perceptual load task reduces thoughts about chocolate, even while hungry. Appetite, 151, 104694.
  • Forster, S., & Lavie, N. (2016). Establishing the attention-distractibility trait. Psychological Science, 27(2), 203-12
  • Forster, S., Nunez Elizalde, A. O., Castle, E., & Bishop, S. J. (2015). Unraveling the anxious mind: anxiety, worry, and frontal engagement in sustained attention versus off-task processing. Cerebral Cortex, 25(3), 609-618.
  • Forster, S., Lavie, N. (2014). Distracted by your mind?: Individual differences in distractibility predict mind wandering. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. 40(1), 251-60
  • Forster, S., Lavie, N. (2009). Harnessing the wandering mind: High perceptual load minimizes task-unrelated thoughts. Cognition. 111 (3), 345-355.

Visit the Attention lab webpage for more information and a full list of publications.

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