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.


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Recent publications

J de Waard, E Van der Burg & C Olivers (2019) A Thickness Illusion: Horizontal Is Perceived as Thicker than Vertical. Vision 3 (1), 1
J van Driel, CNL Olivers & JJ Fahrenfort (2019) High-pass filtering artifacts in multivariate classification of neural time series data. bioRxiv, 530220
M Failing, T Feldmann-Wüstefeld, B Wang, C Olivers & J Theeuwes (2019) Statistical regularities induce spatial as well as feature-specific suppression. PsyArXiv
CM Boisvert, M Ahmed, M Ahmed, M Ahmed, M Ahmed, M Ahmed & ... (2019) The nature of external representations in problem solving. Using Diagrams in Psychotherapy: A Guide to Visually Enhanced Therapy 28 …
AM van Loon, K Olmos-Solis, JJ Fahrenfort & CNL Olivers (2018) Current and future goals are represented in opposite patterns in object-selective cortex. eLife 7, e386772
K Olmos-Solis, JJ Fahrenfort & CNL Olivers (2018) Current and future goals are represented in opposite patterns in object-selective cortex.. eLife 7
RR Reeder, CNL Olivers, M Hanke & S Pollmann (2018) No evidence for enhanced distractor template representation in early visual cortex.. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior …
E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort & CNL Olivers (2018) Lack of free choice reveals the cost of multiple-target search within and across feature dimensions. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 80 (8), 1904-19171
IEJ de Vries, J van Driel, M Karacaoglu & CNL Olivers (2018) Priority switches in visual working memory are supported by frontal delta and posterior alpha interactions. Cerebral Cortex 28 (11), 4090-41043
R Reeder, C Olivers & S Pollmann (2018) The visual representation of templates for rejection. Journal of Vision 18 (10), 1222-1222
E Ort, J Fahrenfort, M Hanke, F Kaule, R Reeder, S Pollmann & C Olivers (2018) Dissociating proactive from reactive control in multiple-target visual search. Journal of Vision 18 (10), 982-982
I de Vries, J van Driel & C Olivers (2018) Posterior alpha and frontal delta oscillations interactively support priority switches within visual working memory.. Journal of Vision 18 (10), 365-365
B Wang, J Theeuwes & C Olivers (2018) Does visual working memory adapt to the nature of anticipated interference?. Journal of Vision 18 (10), 699-699
KO Solis, A van Loon, S Los & C Olivers (2018) Microsaccades reveal the temporal dynamics of template and response preparation during visual search.. Journal of Vision 18 (10), 1031-1031
JJ Fahrenfort, A Grubert, CNL Olivers & M Eimer (2018) Multivariate EEG analyses support high-resolution tracking of feature-based attentional selection (vol 7, 2017). SCIENTIFIC REPORTS 8
JJ Fahrenfort, A Grubert, CNL Olivers & M Eimer (2018) Erratum to: Multivariate EEG analyses support high-resolution tracking of feature-based attentional selection. Scientific Reports 8, 1-1
JJ Fahrenfort, A Grubert, CNL Olivers & M Eimer (2018) Author Correction: Multivariate EEG analyses support high-resolution tracking of feature-based attentional selection. Scientific reports 8 (1), 11236
B Wang, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2018) When shorter delays lead to worse memories: Task disruption makes visual working memory temporarily vulnerable to test interference.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 44 (5), 7222
D van Moorselaar, S Gayet, CLE Paffen, J Theeuwes, S Van der Stigchel & ... (2018) Competitive interactions in visual working memory drive access to awareness. cortex 102, 6-135
D van Moorselaar, JJ Foster, DW Sutterer, J Theeuwes, CNL Olivers & ... (2018) Spatially selective alpha oscillations reveal moment-by-moment trade-offs between working memory and attention. Journal of cognitive neuroscience 30 (2), 256-2664

View full list of publications on Google Scholar