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

W Kruijne, SM Bohte, PR Roelfsema & CNL Olivers (2021) Flexible working memory through selective gating and attentional tagging. Neural computation 33 (1), 1-4012
E van Heusden, M Donk & CNL Olivers (2021) An attentional limbo: Between saliency-driven and goal-driven selection, saccades become momentarily non-selective.. Journal of Vision 21 (9), 1858-1858
W Kruijne, CNL Olivers & H van Rijn (2021) Memory for stimulus duration is not bound to spatial information. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 33 (7), 1211-12291
W Kruijne, CNL Olivers & H van Rijn (2021) Neural repetition suppression modulates time perception: evidence from electrophysiology and pupillometry. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 33 (7), 1230-12523
IS Veríssimo, S Hölsken & CNL Olivers (2021) Individual differences in crowding predict visual search performance. Journal of vision 21 (5), 29-29
J van Driel, CNL Olivers & JJ Fahrenfort (2021) High-pass filtering artifacts in multivariate classification of neural time series data. Journal of Neuroscience Methods 352, 10908027
E van Heusden, M Donk & CNL Olivers (2021) The dynamics of saliency-driven and goal-driven visual selection as a function of eccentricity. Journal of Vision 21 (3), 2-21
K Olmos-Solis, AM van Loon & CNL Olivers (2021) Content or status: Frontal and posterior cortical representations of object category and upcoming task goals in working memory. Cortex 135, 61-773
CNL Olivers & PR Roelfsema (2020) Attention for action in visual working memory. cortex 131, 179-1945
CNL Olivers & S Van der Stigchel (2020) Future steps in visual working memory research. Visual Cognition 28 (5-8), 325-3291
A Bocincova, CNL Olivers, MG Stokes & SG Manohar (2020) A common neural network architecture for visual search and working memory. Visual Cognition 28 (5-8), 356-3714
E Ort & CNL Olivers (2020) The capacity of multiple-target search. Visual Cognition 28 (5-8), 330-35514
IEJ de Vries, HA Slagter & CNL Olivers (2020) Oscillatory control over representational states in working memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24 (2), 150-16243
IEJ de Vries, E Savran, J van Driel & CNL Olivers (2019) Oscillatory mechanisms of preparing for visual distraction. Journal of cognitive neuroscience 31 (12), 1873-189421
E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort, R Reeder, S Pollmann & CNL Olivers (2019) Frontal cortex differentiates between free and imposed target selection in multiple-target search. NeuroImage 202, 1161334
M Failing, T Feldmann-Wüstefeld, B Wang, C Olivers & J Theeuwes (2019) Statistical regularities induce spatial as well as feature-specific suppression.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 45 (10 …39
E Günseli, JJ Fahrenfort, D van Moorselaar, KC Daoultzis, M Meeter & ... (2019) EEG dynamics reveal a dissociation between storage and selective attention within working memory. Scientific reports 9 (1), 1-1313
B Wang, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2019) Momentary, offset-triggered dual-task interference in visual working memory. Journal of Cognition 2 (1)3
T Geyer, HJ Müller & C Olivers (2019) Visual cognition special issue: visual search and selective attention. Visual Cognition 27 (5-8), 385-386
D Alfandari, AV Belopolsky & CNL Olivers (2019) Eye movements reveal learning and information-seeking in attentional template acquisition. Visual Cognition 27 (5-8), 467-4862

View full list of publications on Google Scholar