RSVP: Coming Home to Psychology | Colloquium with Dr. Julia Kam

Title: Thinking about thinking: the neural basis of internal attention

Abstract:  What goes on in the brain when our minds drift off to another time and place? Internal attention is a fundamental human experience in which attention is focused internally on thought processes such as decision making, memory recall and future planning.  Often referred to as mind wandering, this phenomenon takes up to half of our waking hours and has been linked to both positive and negative outcomes. Despite its prevalence and impact on our daily life, we know very little about the neurophysiological basis of internal attention. In this talk, I will first highlight the disruptive nature of internal attention on our processing of the external environment. Based on evidence from patients with brain damage in selected brain regions, I will then discuss the causal role of those regions in supporting internal attention. Finally, I will present work that uses recordings from inside the brains of neurosurgical patients to reveal insights into the neural mechanisms of internal attention. Understanding how the brain supports this fundamental phenomenon is not only important for revealing the neurobiology of wandering minds in healthy individuals but also has implications for psychiatric conditions (such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and neurological disorders (such as Alzheimer’s disease) characterized by the dysregulation of internal attention.

Bio:  Dr. Julia Kam (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary and a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. After receiving her PhD from the University of British Columbia, she went on to complete postdoctoral training at the University of California, Berkeley. As a cognitive neuroscientist, she is known for her work examining what happens in the brain when the mind drifts off to another time and place, whether this experience differs across clinical populations, and how it impacts our functioning and well-being in everyday life. Dr. Kam currently directs the Internal Attention Lab, which aims to advance understanding on these diverse topics and share their research with the public.

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