Christian Frings

My main research focuses on the processing of distractors. In a world full of possibly distracting stimuli, we must selectively attend to goal-relevant information and selectively ignore the currently goal-irrelevant information. How can we achieve this? One idea is that humans can actively suppress the cognitive representations of distrating stimuli, a process called distractor inhibition. Distractor inhibition is typically analyzed in experimental tasks, in which participants have to respond to a target stimulus while ignoring a distractor object or distracting feature (the Stroop task, the Eriksen flanker task, the Negative Priming task and so on); note, that inhibtion has been chosen by the APA as one of the 15 core concepts in cognitive psychology. Another idea is that distractors can be encoded and retrieved together with the target stimuli and the responses given to these targets, a phenomenon called distractor-response binding. Stimulus (and sometimes distractor)-response binding makes our behavior efficient by establishing nearly automatic SR retrieval routines that can emerge without much effort. Measurements of reaction times, error rates, and the electroencephalogram (EEG) are used to tap the processes of inhibition and binding in established, computer-based experiments. What about multisensory interference? Imagine you are focused on a visual task (say reading) while something non-visual disturbs you (say your ringing and vibrating mobile phone). Are distractors presented to several senses and additionally presented to currently inattended senses ignored in the same way than distracors in unisensory selection? Is distractor processing comparable in vision and, for example, in touch? These questions are currently under research and first evidence from blind participants suggests that distractor processing in vision and touch may differ between these modalities. And what about distractors of emotional content? Yes, that might be quite a different story. In fact, there is a long standing debate in cognitive psychology whether emotional stimuli are processed in a different manner as compared to non-emotional stimuli (e.g., they might allocate attention in a near to automatic fashion). Thus, I analyze in various established paradigms how selection of targets is influenced if the distractors do have emotional content. So far, it seems likely that the different mechanisms of distractor processing also differ in the way they are affected by emotional distractors. Is there any link to applied research? Yes, there is. Selection and interference are concepts that are important whenever humans interact with their environment. As a result, my research has clear impact on applied research in ergonomics; for example, recent experiments transfer binding effects to modern car driving-assistance systems. In addition, I collaborate with the local department of applied sciences (mechanical and automotive engineering) for optimizing usage of electric cars.

Disrupting Interference Processing Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

The idea to actively modulate the human brain with electrical currents fascinates people since the ancient times. For example, the Romans used the torpedo fish to treat pain, and in the 18th and 19th century the Galvanic Battery and the […]