Watson portrait

Date: March 31, 2014
Time: 4 PM
Place: Procrastinator Theater, Strand Union Building

Title: To Control or Not to Control? Using Individual Differences in Working Memory
Capacity to Explore Automation and the Resolution of the Control Dilemma

Sponsoring department: Psychology


To investigate attentional control, defined as the regulation of on- and off-task behavior, cognitive psychologists often rely on oppositional logic, pitting controlled and automatic processes against one another, measuring speed and accuracy of responding to incongruent stimuli (e.g., RED printed in green ink). Furthermore, individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) have been shown to predict the differential regulation of habitual responses (word reading) in favor of novel ones (responding to ink color) in tasks requiring attentional control like Stroop color naming. Although dual reliance on oppositional logic and individual differences in WMC has contributed considerably to our field’s theoretical knowledge on mechanisms of attentional control, it overlooks the control dilemma. The dilemma is that the exertion of control and the regulation of on/off-task behavior must be balanced by an overarching tendency to automate processing and to conserve limited-capacity cognitive resources. The present talk combines oppositional logic with individual differences in WMC to compare/contrast situations where (1) attentional control is exerted in response to task demands with those contexts where (2) attentional control is withheld in favor of automation and resolving the control dilemma.

About the speaker:

Dr. Jason M. Watson received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis in 2001. Currently, he is an associate professor in both the Department of Psychology and the Brain Institute at The University of Utah. His research program focuses on the behavioral and brain correlates of individual differences in attentional control, broadly defined as the domain-free, frontally-mediated ability to maintain task goals in the face of potentially distracting information, or one’s ability to regulate on- and off-task behaviors. In attempting to answer research questions on attentional control, Dr. Watson and his collaborators take an applied cognitive neuroscience approach, obtaining converging evidence in both traditional lab tasks and complementary naturalistic contexts, relying on a combination of cognitive, neuropsychological, and functional neuroimaging methods. Dr. Watson has published or presented over 100 research articles and scholarly talks/posters related to attentional control.