Attentional Control: The Secret to a Long and Happy Life?

Abstract: Attentional control is the mechanism that allows us to focus on goal-relevant information without succumbing to distraction, such as paying attention to the road rather than daydreaming when driving, or ignoring the lure of a delicious chocolate cake where your goal is health and fitness. This talk is divided into two parts. In the first part, I present evidence linking individual differences in attentional control to empathy and affect, and identify qualitatively different relationships between attentional control and the cognitive versus affective components of empathy. In the second part, I present novel evidence on how attentional control improves performance in safety-critical professional visual search tasks, such as searching for weapons in bags at airport security screening and identifying abnormal results in diagnostic medical imaging. In doing so, I discuss the ongoing debate about whether attentional control is unitary or multifactorial. Altogether, this evidence demonstrates that effective attentional control is critical is psychological and physical health and well-being.

Research interests: Stephanie’s research interests include visual attention and attentional control, with a particular focus on how these mechanisms impact performance in safety-critical tasks such as driving and diagnostic medical imaging, as well as their role in socio-emotional processes such as anxiety and empathy.

Bio: Stephanie Goodhew completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science with First Class Honours and University Medal and Henry Law Prize (for highest grade point average in psychology methodology courses) at the University of Queensland in 2007. Shen then completed her PhD in Cognitive Psychology with Dean’s Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence also at the University of Queensland in 2011. Following this, Stephanie commenced a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto, Canada, where she won competitive funding from the Ontario government to support her work. She completed this 2012, when she commenced a continuing academic position in the Research School of Psychology at the Australian National University (ANU). In her time at ANU, she has won over a million dollars on competitive external grants to support her research, including an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2014-2016) and an ARC Future Fellowship (2017-2021). She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2017 and Associate Professor in 2021.