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The sources that guide attention are manifold and interact in complex ways. Internal goals, task rules, or salient external stimuli have shown to be some of the strongholds of attentional control. But what guides attention in complex, real-world environments? I have been arguing for a while now that attention during scene viewing is mainly controlled by generic scene knowledge regarding the meaningful composition of objects that make up a scene (a.k.a. scene grammar). Contrary to arbitrary target objects placed in random arrays of distractors, objects in naturalistic scenes are placed in a very rule-governed manner. That is, different types of scene priors — i.e. expectations regarding what objects (scene semantics) are supposed to be where (scene syntax) within a scene — strongly guide attention. In particular, a certain type of objects, which we have started to call “anchor objects”, seems to play a crucial role during visual search, object perception and memory in naturalistic environments.

In this talk, I will highlight some recent projects from our lab in which we have tried to shed more light on the hierarchical nature of scene grammar using a variety of approaches, including eye and body tracking VR, using fake scenes generated by generative adversarial networks (GANs) to probe behavioral and brain responses, and targeting the language-perception interface by investigating scene perception in children with developmental language disorder (DLD). Finally, I’ll be more than happy to share and discuss my experiences regarding growing up and surviving in academia, which seems to be a lifelong quest.



Melissa Võ received her PhD from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich in 2009. She then moved on to perform postdoctoral work, first with John Henderson at the University of Edinburgh, and then with Jeremy Wolfe at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Võ’s work has been supported by numerous grants and fellowships, including grants from the NIH and the German Research Council. In 2014, Melissa Võ moved back to Germany where she was appointed Full Professor for Cognitive Psychology at the Goethe University Frankfurt and set up the Scene Grammar Lab that has since tried to make a scene.



This is a hybrid event.  The seminar will be held at the Seminar Room, New Radcliffe House (2nd Floor) but can also be followed on Zoom.  

You can access the Zoom link via OxTalks at Reading Scenes: A Hierarchical View on Attentional Guidance in Real-World Environments - Oxford Talks or, email us at to request the link.