Jeff Moher joins the psychology faculty as assistant professor, and will teach Psychological Statistics in Fall 2018. His research uses behavioral and neurophysiological methods to understand why distractions occur, when they are likely to arise, and what mechanisms humans can harness to avoid them.
Every day, humans must interact with a complex external world in order to extract detailed information, make decisions, and carry out appropriate actions. For example, cooking a meal, driving to the airport, or reading through a stack of job applications requires the precise execution of a series of decisions and associated actions. The problem is that despite our best intentions, we often find ourselves at the mercy of irrelevant distractions – our attention wanders. Seemingly minor distractions add up over time to induce serious costs in performance, which can have severe consequences. According to the Center for Disease Control, for example, over 3,000 people are killed each year in the United States from distracted driving. Moher's research uses behavioral and neurophysiological methods to understand why distractions occur, when they are likely to arise, and what mechanisms humans can harness to avoid them.
The bulk of research on human attention has traditionally emphasized how we attend to relevant information, but his research explores how and when humans are able to ignore irrelevant distractions to accomplish behavioral goals. He has found that humans employ a variety of cognitive mechanisms to minimize distractions based on explicit knowledge, task goals, object properties, and recent experience. However, he has also discovered surprising limitations, wherein failures of attentional selection – that is, distractions – occur despite (or even because of) the observer’s intentions. These discoveries provide new insight into how humans avoid distractions in order to accomplish a wide range of behavioral goals.
Currently in Moher's lab, multiple methodologies are being iused, including electroencephalography, three-dimensional reach-tracking, and psychophysics to approach these questions. Current projects cover a number of topic areas, including:
- What are the brain mechanisms involved in learning to ignore distractions?
- Why do salient distractors – objects that grab your attention because of their physical properties, like a flashing billboard – cause people to give up quickly when they are searching for a target?
- How do text message interruptions disrupt focused attention?
- What is the relationship between internal distractions (such as when your mind wanders) and external distractions (like the salient distractors mentioned above)?
- How can we look at the path of a hand movement to learn more about how people can ignore distractions and when they are more or less likely to be distracted?
- Erb, C. D., Moher, J., Song, J. H., & Sobel, D. M. (accepted for publication, Journal of Numerical Cognition). Numerical cognition in action: Reaching behavior reveals numerical distance effects in 5- to 6-year-olds
- Erb, C. D., Moher, J., Song, J. H., & Sobel, D. M. (2017). Cognitive control in action: Tracking the dynamics of rule switching in 5-to 8-year-olds and adults. Cognition, 164, 163-173.
- Erb, C.D., Moher, J., Sobel, D., & Song, J-H. (2017). Reach tracking reveals dissociable processes underlying inhibitory control in 5- to 10-year-olds. Developmental Science (available online).
- Moher, J. & Song, J-H. (2016). Target selection biases from recent experience transfer across effectors. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 78, 415–426.
- Erb, C. D., Moher, J., Sobel, D. M., & Song, J. H. (2016). Reach tracking reveals dissociable processes underlying cognitive control. Cognition, 152, 114-126.
- Moher, J., Anderson, B.A., & Song, J-H. (2015). Dissociable effects of salience on attention and goal-directed action. Current Biology, 25, 2040–2046.
- Moher, J., Sit, J., & Song, J-H. (2015). Goal-directed action is automatically biased towards looming motion.Vision Research, 113, 188–197.
Recent conference talks
- Erb, C. D., Moher, J., Song, J-H., Marcovitch, S., & Sobel, D. M. (2017, April). Reaching behavior revealsdissociable inhibitory processes with divergent developmental trajectories. Talk presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX.
- Moher, J., Anderson, B.A., & Song, J-H. (2015, November). Measuring distractor interference in goal-directed action on a trial-by-trial basis reveals selective residual inhibition. Talk presented at the annual meeting of thePsychonomic Society, Chicago, IL.
In his free time, Professor Moher loves to spend time with his wife Mariko, their three-year old daughter Emiko, and (coming soon!) their new daughter who is due to arrive in October, 2017. They love to travel whenever they can. He also enjoys playing music (drums & guitar) and playing basketball.
270 Mohegan Ave.
New London, CT 06320
Bill Hall 213