DISTRACT Talk with Signe Vangkilde and Anne Marie Kristensen

Mastering Meta-Control: From Cognitive Mechanisms to Practical Strategies

In an age where digital distractions are omnipresent, understanding and mastering attention control has never been more crucial. The media often draw our attention to a so-called war on attention, with companies incorporating mechanisms in apps, games, and platforms to capture our attention and make us return repeatedly as part of the attention economy. The aim of this talk is to explore core concepts and mechanisms of attention and control. How do we employ meta-control to focus our attention while still allowing our mind to flexibly shift from one task to another, and what happens when multiple stimuli compete to grasp our attention at once?  We will begin by exploring the cognitive underpinnings of attention control, examining both focused engagement and the dynamics of a wandering mind.

Another prominent public debate driven by politicians and experts revolves around the role and impact of digital media and technologies in Danish classrooms, with some claiming that digital and social media are directly harmful to children’s attention span and concentration abilities, calling for a ban on these technologies. In a different approach to this discussion, the second part of our talk will focus on research-based ways of strengthening children’s (and adults’) concentration skills and abilities to shift flexibly between tasks. Longitudinal studies indicate that these skills are crucial for later life outcomes, such as academic performance, career choices, social interactions, and criminal offences. These findings underscore the profound impact of attention control on lifelong learning and behavior. Drawing on our research project On Track, we will elaborate on ways to support, help, and train our attentional control in order for our attentional focus to be as stable as possible, while allowing for flexibility and not be easily led astray by irrelevant distractors.

Signe Vangkilde a Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychology, specialising in cognitive control and attention in heath and disease at the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen (UCPH).

Anne Marie Kristensen (aka Rie) is a PhD student at the Department of Psychology at UCPH. Her PhD project is supported by TrygFonden and the Independent Research Fund Denmark, and her research is focused on mechanisms and activities, which can support attention control and academic well-being in schoolchildren.