Christian Olivers


Phone: +31 (0) 20 598 8974
Room: 1B-80

Personal webpage


The mechanisms behind attentional biases and visual working memory
My main research line is the ERC Consolidator Program “TEMPLATE 2.0” which investigates the relationship between working memory and visual attention. Several subprojects focus on the capacity, control, dynamics, and learning of top-down visual biases. I do this together with postdocs Anouk van Loon and Joram van Driel and PhD students Katya Olmos Solis and Ingmar de Vries, while PhD students Dirk van Moorselaar and Eren Günseli have laid some of the earlier groundwork.

The representational nature of attentional biases
Together with Johannes Fahrenfort and PhD student Eduard Ort I work on the representational nature of the attentional template: When does it represent features, conjunctions, objects, or some abstract semantic content? This is part of an international ORA(NWO)-funded collaboration with Martin Eimer (Birkbeck), Hermann Müller (Munich), and Stefan Pollman (Magdeburg). In a NWO-funded collaboration together with Falk Huettig at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, PhD student Floor de Groot also investigates the dynamics and mechanisms of linguistic and semantic influences on visual selection.

Multisensory processing
The senses do not operate alone, but directly communicate with each other. I collaborate with Erik van der Burg and John Cass (both Sydney) on audiovisual interactions, and how they steer attention to relevant events.


I did my undergraduate and MSc degree in Nijmegen, after which I worked on the perception of symmetry. From 1998 to 2001 I worked in the lab of Glyn Humphreys at University of Birmingham (UK) obtaining a PhD degree. This work focused on how the visual system actively ignores irrelevant information, and eventually resulted in a best thesis award from the British Psychological Society , and a new investigator award from the American Psychological Association. After my PhD I briefly worked in the south of Uganda, teaching students research methods in social science, as well as computer skills. In 2002 I started as a postdoc/lecturer at the VU in Amsterdam, where I have been ever since, working on various aspects of visual attention and memory. I teach Cognitive Psychology and Perception. My work has continuously been funded by national and international grants (NWO, ECRP, ERC) and has received an American Psychological Association Early Career Award.

Research interests

My current interests are reflected in the projects described above. One of the most important features of human vision is that it is selective. It flexibly samples the environment on the basis of what is relevant to our current tasks – tasks such as driving, finding a product in the supermarket, or collecting a child from school. This means that the brain maintains some representation of what we are currently looking for, be it a traffic sign, a coffee brand, or a kid’s face. This “picture in your head”, or “template” as it is often referred to, remains a mystery. Current models of visual exploration assume it to be there, but without making explicit what its properties and mechanisms are. I want to understand this central concept of perceptual theory, by systematically investigating what distinguishes the template from other types of memory, how many templates can be active at a time, how we set up, change, and abandon the template with changing task demands, and how training changes the nature, dynamics and capacity of the template.


Google Scholar

Recent publications

B Wang, J Theeuwes & C Olivers (2017) When shorter delays lead to worse memories: Taking attention away from visual working memory temporarily makes it more vulnerable to test interference.. Journal of Vision 17 (10), 111-111
K Olmos-Solis, AM van Loon, SA Los & CNL Olivers (2017) Oculomotor measures reveal the temporal dynamics of preparing for search. Progress in Brain Research
E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort & CNL Olivers (2017) Lack of free choice reveals the cost of having to search for more than one object. Psychological science 28 (8), 1137-1147
RR Reeder, CNL Olivers & S Pollmann (2017) Cortical evidence for negative search templates. Visual Cognition, 1-13
AM van Loon, K Olmos-Solis & CNL Olivers (2017) Subtle eye movement metrics reveal task-relevant representations prior to visual search. Journal of Vision 17 (6), 13-131
F De Groot, F Huettig & CNL Olivers (2017) Language-induced visual and semantic biases in visual search are subject to task requirements. Visual Cognition, 1-16
JJ Fahrenfort, A Grubert, CNL Olivers & M Eimer (2017) Multivariate EEG analyses support high-resolution tracking of feature-based attentional selection. Scientific Reports 7 (1), 1886
D van Moorselaar, S Gayet, CLE Paffen, J Theeuwes, S Van der Stigchel & ... (2017) Competitive interactions in visual working memory drive access to awareness. Cortex1
J van Driel, E Gunseli, M Meeter & CNL Olivers (2017) Local and interregional alpha EEG dynamics dissociate between memory for search and memory for recognition. NeuroImage 149, 114-128
E Van der Burg, CNL Olivers & J Cass (2017) Evolving the keys to visual crowding.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 43 (4), 6901
JJ Fahrenfort, J van Leeuwen, CNL Olivers & H Hogendoorn (2017) Perceptual integration without conscious access. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016172682
IEJ de Vries, J van Driel & CNL Olivers (2017) Posterior α EEG Dynamics Dissociate Current from Future Goals in Working Memory-Guided Visual Search. Journal of Neuroscience 37 (6), 1591-16033
A Grubert, J Fahrenfort, CNL Olivers & M Eimer (2017) Rapid top-down control over template-guided attention shifts to multiple objects. Neuroimage 146, 843-8581
JJ Fahrenfort, J van Leeuwen, J Foster, E Awh & CNL Olivers (2017) Working memory implements distinct maintenance mechanisms depending on task goals. bioRxiv, 162537
J Hulleman & CNL Olivers (2017) On the brink: The demise of the item in visual search moves closer. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 40
CNL Olivers, E Awh & E Van der Burg (2016) The capacity to detect synchronous audiovisual events is severely limited: Evidence from mixture modeling.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 42 (12 ...2
B Wang, C Yan, Z Wang, CNL Olivers & J Theeuwes (2016) Adverse orienting effects on visual working memory encoding and maintenance. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 1-7
T Blom, S Mathôt, CNL Olivers & S Van der Stigchel (2016) The pupillary light response reflects encoding, but not maintenance, in visual working memory.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 42 (11 ...5
D van Moorselaar, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2016) Learning changes the attentional status of prospective memories. Psychonomic bulletin & review 23 (5), 1483-14902
B Wang, X Cao, J Theeuwes, CNL Olivers & Z Wang (2016) Location-based effects underlie feature conjunction benefits in visual working memory. Journal of vision 16 (11), 12-121

View full list of publications on Google Scholar