Chair and department head

Jan Theeuwes

Chair and department head

Phone: +31 (0) 20 598 8790
Room: 1E-11


Since 2012 I primarily work on an advanced ERC project` What you get is what you see: How Reward Determines Perception’. Here I investigate how our brain reacts to objects that are associated with either a high or low reward. A lot is known about the motivational effect of reward, but its effect on attention and perception has only marginally been explored. The project investigates the role of dopamine in reward in studies involving Parkinson’s patients and by means of deep brain stimulation. The individual sensitivity  to reward will be associated to the development of addiction and risk seeking behaviour. The proposed research will have tremendous impact on the study of cognition, education, and (risky) decision making, as well as on a variety of clinical syndromes in which both attention and reward have been critically implicated, such as (drug) addiction and obesity.


After obtaining a BSc in Mechanical Engineering (1981), Jan Theeuwes studied Psychology at Tilburg University. He received a BSc and MSc in Experimental Psychology (1987) with the highest honour (cum laude). In 1992 he received a PhD from the Vrije Universiteit (advisor A.F. Sanders) with the highest honor. He worked from1988 until 1999 at the TNO Human Factors Institute in Soesterberg conducting applied research for governments, car companies (BMW, Volvo), and the EU. In 1999 he became a full professor at the VU where he built a new research group, now consisting of about 35 researchers and graduate students. Jan Theeuwes published more than 220 peer-reviewed papers. For his accomplishments, Jan Theeuwes was elected member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Science (KNAW) in 2010. In 2001 Jan Theeuwes was awarded the first Bertelson Award in recognition of outstanding psychological research from the European Society for Cognitive Psychology. Currently, he is president-elect of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology, member of the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) and member of Scientific Advisory Board TNO- LIFT. He is one of the principal advisors of the Dutch Department of Transportation (Rijkswaterstaat) regarding road design and signing.

Research interests

My main interest is to acquire fundamental knowledge on a wide array of subjects including perception, attention, memory and emotion using a wide range of methods, including behavioral (RT measurement), eye tracking, functional MRI, psychophysiological recordings (e.g., ERP), patient work and modeling. I published papers on attentional and oculomotor capture, working memory, multimodal integration, remapping, face perception, visual search, emotion, unconscious processing, the attentional blink, reward processing as well as several applied papers involving road design and headlamp glare. In 2012 I published a book Designing Safe Road Systems (


Curriculum Vitae
Google Scholar

Recent publications

L Wang, S Li, X Zhou & J Theeuwes (2018) Stimuli that signal the availability of reward break into attentional focus. Vision research 144, 20-28
B Wang & J Theeuwes (2018) How to inhibit a distractor location? Statistical learning versus active, top-down suppression. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 1-11
B Bucker & J Theeuwes (2018) Stimulus-driven and goal-driven effects on Pavlovian associative reward learning. Visual Cognition 26 (2), 131-1481
J Munneke, SS Hoppenbrouwers, B Little, K Kooiman, E van der Burg & ... (2018) Comparing the response modulation hypothesis and the integrated emotions system theory: The role of top-down attention in psychopathy. Personality and Individual Differences 122, 134-139
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), 256-266
PJ Boon, S Zeni, J Theeuwes & AV Belopolsky (2018) Rapid updating of spatial working memory across saccades. Scientific reports 8 (1), 1072
B Wang & J Theeuwes (2018) Statistical regularities modulate attentional capture.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 44 (1), 132
B McCoy & J Theeuwes (2018) Overt and covert attention to location-based reward. Vision research 142, 27-39
SS Hoppenbrouwers, J Munneke, KA Kooiman, B Little, CS Neumann & ... (2017) Fearful faces do not lead to faster attentional deployment in individuals with elevated psychopathic traits. Journal of psychopathology and behavioral assessment 39 (4), 596-604
T Nissens, M Failing & J Theeuwes (2017) People look at the object they fear: Oculomotor capture by stimuli that signal threat. Cognition and emotion 31 (8), 1707-17142
B Wang, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2017) When Shorter Delays Lead to Worse Memories: Task Disruption Makes Visual Working Memory Temporarily Vulnerable to Test Interference.. American Psychological Association
M Failing & J Theeuwes (2017) Don’t let it distract you: how information about the availability of reward affects attentional selection. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 79 (8), 2275-229810
M Failing & J Theeuwes (2017) Selection history: How reward modulates selectivity of visual attention. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 1-256
JC Van Slooten, S Jahfari, T Knapen & J Theeuwes (2017) Individual differences in eye blink rate predict both transient and tonic pupil responses during reversal learning. PloS one 12 (9), e0185665
PC Klink, D Jeurissen, J Theeuwes, D Denys & PR Roelfsema (2017) Working memory accuracy for multiple targets is driven by reward expectation and stimulus contrast with different time-courses. Scientific reports 7 (1), 90823
B Wang, C Yan, Z Wang, CNL Olivers & J Theeuwes (2017) Adverse orienting effects on visual working memory encoding and maintenance. Psychonomic bulletin & review 24 (4), 1261-1267
LJ Schmidt, AV Belopolsky & J Theeuwes (2017) The time course of attentional bias to cues of threat and safety. Cognition and emotion 31 (5), 845-8575
D Preciado, J Munneke & J Theeuwes (2017) Mixed signals: The effect of conflicting reward-and goal-driven biases on selective attention. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics 79 (5), 1297-1310
F Walker, B Bucker, NC Anderson, D Schreij & J Theeuwes (2017) Looking at paintings in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum: Eye movement patterns of children and adults. PloS one 12 (6), e0178912
PJ Boon, J Theeuwes & AV Belopolsky (2017) Eye abduction reduces but does not eliminate competition in the oculomotor system. Journal of vision 17 (5), 15-151

View full list of publications on Google Scholar