CE28 - Cognition, éducation, formation

Attention and the Exploration - Exploitation Balance – AttEx2

Submission summary

Our project draws both from computational psychiatry and cognitive psychology. It seeks to renew our understanding of attention and its deficits. Our hypothesis is that attention is the tuning of the exploration-exploitation trade-off. Distraction corresponds to an imbalance in favor of exploration and the opposite for excess focus. In an interindividual and clinical perspective, we endeavor to show that the diversity of attentional traits depends on the tuning of this trade-off. In decision making and foraging tasks we shall model both random and strategic exploration in neurotypical children rated on an attentional scale, as well as patients with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. We extend this approach to the realm of thought processes on the one hand (by means of verbal tasks, modeled as foraging in semantic space, we shall study how the very same trade-off explains the coherence of the train of thoughts) and in perceptual selective attention on the other (automatic influences of incongruent distractors are the result of an exploration of the visual scene).

Our general methodological approach is one of clinical / individual differences. We shall endeavour to demonstrate that individuals have the same exploratory (resp. exploitative) biases across all these different tasks, so as to accumulate evidence in favour of a general "inattention is exploration" hypothesis. We shall systematically test our tasks with young neurotypical adult participants, for whom we shall collect self-ratings on an clinical attentional questionnaire. But we shall also work with children, and we shall contrast children diagnosed with ADHD with neurotypical children rated on an attentional scale by their teachers or caregivers.

Using the methods of experimental psychology and computational modeling combined with imagery, and the most recent models both in the field of decision making and automatic natural language analysis, this project aims to give a unified definition of attention. By considering attention both as a resource and as a mechanism, we draw on two distinct areas of research that study the exploration-exploitation balance, decision-making and foraging, and we apply it to new domains: verbal production and selective spatial attention. This project is also a contribution to the emerging field of neurodiversity which posits that neurodevelopmental differences result from natural variation of the genome because these interindividual variations of exploratory behaviors are found throughout the animal kingdom where the search for food is essential for survival. The proposition that ADHD could be a cognitive strategy rather than a pure deficit (Van den Driessche et al. 2019) opens up perspectives for ADHD patients care but also in the field of education in general.

Project coordination

Jerome Sackur (Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LPPC- EA2027 Laboratoire Psychopathologie et Processus de Changement
LSCP Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique
INNOV RDB DMU APHP.Nord : Chirurgie, Neurodéveloppement, Imagerie, Explorations fonctionnelles
CAMS Centre d'analyses et de mathématiques sociales
JOLIOT Institut des sciences du vivant FRÉDÉRIC-JOLIOT

Help of the ANR 507,928 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2022 - 48 Months

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