Student research focused on selective attention, feedback

Working as an undergraduate research assistant in Associate Professor in Psychology Kristine Kovack-Lesh’s Infant Cognition Lab laid the foundation for the senior seminar research project of Rebecca Leuenberger ’19 of Racine, Wisconsin. Leuenberger is a psychobiology major.

Her research presentation is titled “Selective Attention and Feedback Performance: Does Feedback Actually Help?” Selective attention is the type of attention that enables us to focus on a particular task while ignoring other tasks, such as reading a book in a coffee shop. Feedback performance is how an individual performs given positive or negative feedback while doing a certain task.

For her research, Leuenberger used a directional flanker task. The task, which is run on a computer, uses images of fish presented to study participants. Subjects in the study are asked to focus on the target fish (located in the middle in a line of similar fish) and identify the direction of the fish (pointing left or right) as quickly as possible. Next to the target fish are others, called flankers, that point in the same and/or different directions.

The second component of Leuenberger’s study involved performance-irrelevant feedback that flashed on the screen while participants identified the direction of the target fish. Regardless of the success rate of the participant, feedback saying “GREAT WORK” or “TRY TO BE FASTER” would flash upon the selection.

Leuenberger’s greatest challenge was her inexperience with computer programming. Kovack-Lesch utilizes the directional flanker task in her lab, but Leuenberger needed to modify the program to display irrelevant feedback messages. “Once I was able to figure out where in the code the program needed changes, it was smooth sailing!” she exclaims.

Of her research, Leuenberger most enjoys understanding underlying attention within the cognitive systems, as well as how emotions manipulate attention. She finds it rewarding to be able to create and design a study that incorporates an idea she had while working in the Infant Cognition Lab.

“Overall, I was confident and excited going into the presentation, and I was very glad to share my work with my peers,” Leuenberger says.

Dakota Marlega ’21
Waupaca, Wisconsin

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