Mission Statement: Why we run this Attention-Circuits-Control lab.

We believe that every choice and course of action – flexible-and-intelligent, or maladaptive-and-dysfunctional – has its causal origin in neuronal circuit dynamics that can be identified and understood. Thus, we want to identify the neuronal implementation, the algorithms, and the cellular machinery that precede and thereby exert control over choices. We name this the search for control processes of attention in brain circuits.

What are Control processes underlying Attention in Brain Circuits ?

Our lab strives to understand how neuronal circuits implement control processes governing our attention. We aim to achieve this mission by acknowledging that the implementation of these processes at the (local) neural microcircuit scale will be based on canonical gating and gain control mechanisms forming so called Dynamic Circuit Motifs (Nature Neuroscience). The implementation of these processes at the larger scale of brain networks requires acknowledging that there are multiple processes in the brain that coordinate every moment in time to decide what we attend to: Some are external to the brain (a salient event), but most are internally generated within the brain : They come from prior experience (‘My memory suggests that X is relevant and valuable in such a situation?), or from ‘logic and task rules‘ (‘I need to look out for X if I want Y’), or from motivation (‘I want to see this’). We have described these multiple sources of control in a heuristic framework of Long-Range Attention Networks: Circuit Motifs Underlying Endogenously Controlled Stimulus Selection (2015, Trends in Neurosciences). Other excellent reviews about these topics have recently been published by Shenhav, Botvinick and Cohen on the neuronal computations underlying the ‘Expected Value of Control’, by Prof. J Gottlieb about Attention, Learning, and the Value of Information, by Baluch and Itti surveying the functional architecture of the Mechanisms of top-down attention.

An important insight that guides our research is that Controlâ depends heavily on coordination – In the brain, this coordination is achieved without central controller. For some cool insights about Control without central coordination see Kumar’s TED talks.

How do we study Attention and Control in Brain Circuits ?

We measure and model behaviour and brain activity with multiple approaches – please see our Research overview. Here some review manuscripts on these topics from our lab:

  • Womelsdorf T, Everling S (2015) Long-Range Attention Networks: Circuit Motifs Underlying Endogenously Controlled Stimulus Selection. Trends in Neurosciences. 38:11 682-700 pdf (or via RG).
  • Womelsdorf T, Valiante TA, Sahin NT, Miller KJ, Tiesinga P (2014) Dynamic circuit motifs underlying rhythmic gain control, gating and integration. Nature Neuroscience. 17: 1031–1039. pdf
  • Womelsdorf T., Landau A.N., Fries P. (2014) Attentional Selection through Rhythmic Synchronization at Multiple Frequencies. In: The Cognitive Neurosciences V. Editor: M. Gazzaniga. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, USA.
  • Womelsdorf, T., Vinck, M., Leung, S. & Everling, S. (2010) Selective theta synchronization of choice relevant information subserves goal-directed behavior. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 107(11): 5248-53.
  • Womelsdorf, T. & Fries, P. (2007) The role of neuronal synchronization in selective attention. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 17, 154-160.