Header logo is

Maria Wirzberger
Maria Wirzberger (Project leader)
Affiliated Researcher
sf Ivan Oreshnikov
Ivan Oreshnikov
Research Engineer
sf Jean-Claude Passy
Jean-Claude Passy
Research Engineer
re Lisa Eckerstorfer
re Anastasia Lado
Anastasia Lado
Student Assistant
re Adrian Stock
Adrian Stock
Student Assistant
re Falk Lieder
Falk Lieder
Max Planck Research Group Leader
re Maryam Elenguebawy
Maryam Elenguebawy
Student Assistant
Noemployeeimage sm
Amitai Shenhav
Department of Cognitive, Linguistic & Psychological Sciences, Brown Institute for Brain Science, Brown University
4 results


no image
How to navigate everyday distractions: Leveraging optimal feedback to train attention control

Wirzberger, M., Lado, A., Eckerstorfer, L., Oreshnikov, I., Passy, J., Stock, A., Shenhav, A., Lieder, F.

Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, July 2020 (conference)

To stay focused on their chosen tasks, people have to inhibit distractions. The underlying attention control skills can improve through reinforcement learning, which can be accelerated by giving feedback. We applied the theory of metacognitive reinforcement learning to develop a training app that gives people optimal feedback on their attention control while they are working or studying. In an eight-day field experiment with 99 participants, we investigated the effect of this training on people's productivity, sustained attention, and self-control. Compared to a control condition without feedback, we found that participants receiving optimal feedback learned to focus increasingly better (f = .08, p < .01) and achieved higher productivity scores (f = .19, p < .01) during the training. In addition, they evaluated their productivity more accurately (r = .12, p < .01). However, due to asymmetric attrition problems, these findings need to be taken with a grain of salt.

How to navigate everyday distractions: Leveraging optimal feedback to train attention control DOI Project Page [BibTex]

no image
ACTrain: Ein KI-basiertes Aufmerksamkeitstraining für die Wissensarbeit [ACTrain: An AI-based attention training for knowledge work]

Wirzberger, M., Oreshnikov, I., Passy, J., Lado, A., Shenhav, A., Lieder, F.

66th Spring Conference of the German Ergonomics Society, 2020 (conference)

Unser digitales Zeitalter lebt von Informationen und stellt unsere begrenzte Verarbeitungskapazität damit täglich auf die Probe. Gerade in der Wissensarbeit haben ständige Ablenkungen erhebliche Leistungseinbußen zur Folge. Unsere intelligente Anwendung ACTrain setzt genau an dieser Stelle an und verwandelt Computertätigkeiten in eine Trainingshalle für den Geist. Feedback auf Basis maschineller Lernverfahren zeigt anschaulich den Wert auf, sich nicht von einer selbst gewählten Aufgabe ablenken zu lassen. Diese metakognitive Einsicht soll zum Durchhalten motivieren und das zugrunde liegende Fertigkeitsniveau der Aufmerksamkeitskontrolle stärken. In laufenden Feldexperimenten untersuchen wir die Frage, ob das Training mit diesem optimalen Feedback die Aufmerksamkeits- und Selbstkontrollfertigkeiten im Vergleich zu einer Kontrollgruppe ohne Feedback verbessern kann.

link (url) Project Page [BibTex]


no image
Attention please! Enhanced attention control abilities compensate for instructional impairments in multimedia learning

Wirzberger, M., Rey, G. D.

Journal of Computers in Education, 5(2):243-257, Springer Nature, 2018 (article)

Learners exposed to multimedia learning contexts have to deal with a variety of visual stimuli, demanding a conducive design of learning material to maintain limitations in attentional resources. Within the current study, effects and constraints arising from two selected impairing features are investigated in more detail within a computer-based learning task on factor analysis. A sample of 53 students received a combination of textual and pictorial elements that explained the topic, while impaired attention was systematically induced in a 2 × 2 factorial between-subjects design by interrupting system-notifications (with vs. without) and seductive text passages (with vs. without). Learners’ ability for controlled attention was assessed with a standardized psychological attention inventory. Approaching the results, learners receiving seductive text passages spent significantly more time on the learning material. In addition, a moderation effect of attention control abilities on the relationship between interruptions and retention performance resulted. Explanations for the obtained findings are discussed referring to mechanisms of compensation, load, and activation.

DOI Project Page [BibTex]


DOI [BibTex]

no image
Rational metareasoning and the plasticity of cognitive control

Lieder, F., Shenhav, A., Musslick, S., Griffiths, T. L.

PLOS Computational Biology, 14(4):e1006043, Public Library of Science, April 2018 (article)

The human brain has the impressive capacity to adapt how it processes information to high-level goals. While it is known that these cognitive control skills are malleable and can be improved through training, the underlying plasticity mechanisms are not well understood. Here, we develop and evaluate a model of how people learn when to exert cognitive control, which controlled process to use, and how much effort to exert. We derive this model from a general theory according to which the function of cognitive control is to select and configure neural pathways so as to make optimal use of finite time and limited computational resources. The central idea of our Learned Value of Control model is that people use reinforcement learning to predict the value of candidate control signals of different types and intensities based on stimulus features. This model correctly predicts the learning and transfer effects underlying the adaptive control-demanding behavior observed in an experiment on visual attention and four experiments on interference control in Stroop and Flanker paradigms. Moreover, our model explained these findings significantly better than an associative learning model and a Win-Stay Lose-Shift model. Our findings elucidate how learning and experience might shape people’s ability and propensity to adaptively control their minds and behavior. We conclude by predicting under which circumstances these learning mechanisms might lead to self-control failure.

Rational metareasoning and the plasticity of cognitive control DOI Project Page Project Page [BibTex]

Rational metareasoning and the plasticity of cognitive control DOI Project Page Project Page [BibTex]