Our world constantly serves up far more sensory information than can be processed up to the level of awareness, thus it is vital that humans are able to sort the important information from the irrelevant and select the correct responses to this information from a veritable plethora of options. Such tasks are thought to be undertaken by the attention system and I am interested in understanding the cognitive and neural underpinnings of this system, and in particular the mechanism(s) that give rise to the capacity limitations of attention. In addition, I am interested in how humans overcome such limitations by employing environmental cues such as the context in which relevant items appear and how training improves cognitive performance and reduces the impact of attentional bottlenecks. A key question pertains to the transfer of training from one cognitive task to another. To investigate these questions I employ behavioural, neuroimaging (fMRI) and neurostimulation (TMS) techniques.
I have always been interested in human performance and in particular its capacity limits. Questions regarding why we become conscious of some things and not others have always fascinated me and understanding how Brain works is one of science's great topics of investigation. What I have always found amazing is that despite having immense processing power and ~100 billion neurons the human brain is unable to handle two simple tasks at once, which typically results in severe failures of conscious perception and/or decision making. Attention is vital for virtually every task we perform, from driving to managing multiple tasks at work, and is impaired in a wide range of psychiatric and neurological disorders. Thus, research in this field in both vital and exciting.
Any success I have achieved has been due to hard work, drive, commitment, a willingness to make sacrifices and of course a little luck. In addition, I have always studied things that interest me and tried to stay in the present, only focusing on the things that I can control. I also really believe that one must always keep an open mind and think deeply about the issues. Obviously, however, no man is an island, and I have been lucky to be strongly supported by my great mentors (Karen Murphy, Veronika Coltheart, Irina Harris, Max Coltheart and René Marois), an amazing family and a wonderful wife. I also have fantastic colleagues at the University of Queensland and a lab full of great postdocs and students. Finally, I have received funding support from the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council.
I am always focused on conducting sound research that interests me and has significant implications. In addition, I am strongly committed to training students and postdocs. My current grants investigate different forms of human attentional capacity limitations and how they are related using behavioural experiments, fMRI and TMS. A particular focus is on testing for the existence of a central bottleneck in the brain, the influence of training on these bottlenecks and the functional anatomy of the frontal lobes.
Much of my time up to the age of 30 was spent playing Rugby (Gold Coast Breakers, Eastwood Ruby Club & Nashville Rugby Club) and Cricket (Gold Coast Dolphins, Coomera Hope Island Cricket Club). I miss those days, but am still a passionate sports fan and enjoying following the Queensland Reds, Carlton Footy Club and Chicago Bears (living in the US for my postdoc gave me the opportunity to fall in love with American Football).