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

A Nuthmann, F De Groot, F Huettig & CNL Olivers (2019) Extrafoveal attentional capture by object semantics. PloS one 14 (5), e0217051
M Failing, T Feldmann-Wustefeld, B Wang, O Christian & J Theeuwes (2019) Statistical regularities induce spatial as well as feature-specific suppression. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance2
S Gayet, D van Moorselaar, CNL Olivers, CLE Paffen & S Van der Stigchel (2019) Prospectively reinstated memory drives conscious access of matching visual input. Scientific reports 9 (1), 4793
IEJ de Vries, J van Driel & CNL Olivers (2019) Decoding the status of working memory representations in preparation of visual selection. NeuroImage
D van Moorselaar, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2019) Memory-based attentional biases survive spatial suppression driven by selection history. Visual Cognition, 1-8
J de Waard, E Van der Burg & C Olivers (2019) A Thickness Illusion: Horizontal Is Perceived as Thicker than Vertical. Vision 3 (1), 11
J Van Driel, E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort & CNL Olivers (2019) Beta and theta oscillations differentially support free versus forced control over multiple-target search. Journal of Neuroscience 39 (9), 1733-17432
E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort, T Ten Cate, M Eimer & CNL Olivers (2019) Humans can efficiently look for, but not select multiple visual objects. BioRxiv, 653030
E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort, RR Reeder, S Pollmann & CNL Olivers (2019) The Role of Proactive and Reactive Cognitive Control for Target Selection in Multiple-Target Search. BioRxiv, 559500
J van Driel, CNL Olivers & JJ Fahrenfort (2019) High-pass filtering artifacts in multivariate classification of neural time series data. bioRxiv, 530220
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, e386774
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 …2
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), 1904-19174
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), 4090-41046
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

View full list of publications on Google Scholar