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

CNL Olivers & PR Roelfsema (2020) Attention for action in visual working memory. Cortex 131, 179-194
E Ort & CNL Olivers (2020) The capacity of multiple-target search. Visual Cognition, 1-26
IEJ de Vries, HA Slagter & CNL Olivers (2020) Oscillatory control over representational states in working memory. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24 (2), 150-16216
W Kruijne, CNL Olivers & H van Rijn (2020) Memory for stimulus durations is not bound to spatial information. bioRxiv
W Kruijne, CNL Olivers & H van Rijn (2020) Neural repetition suppression modulates time perception: evidence from electrophysiology and pupillometry. bioRxiv
IEJ de Vries, E Savran, J van Driel & CNL Olivers (2019) Oscillatory mechanisms of preparing for visual distraction. Journal of cognitive neuroscience 31 (12), 1873-18949
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, 1161332
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 …17
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), 1-135
B Wang, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2019) Momentary, Offset-Triggered Dual-Task Interference in Visual Working Memory. Journal of Cognition 2 (1)1
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), 467-4861
N Kohli, BR Kar, A Hervais-Adelman, U Kumar, R Mishra, F Huettig & ... (2019) Call for Papers: Ageing in Developing Societies. Psychology and Developing Societies 31 (2), 349-349
CNL Olivers, E Ort, J van Driel & JJ Fahrenfort (2019) Proactive and Reactive Control Over Target Selection in Visual Search. PERCEPTION 48, 48-48
E Ort, JJ Fahrenfort, T Ten Cate, M Eimer & CNL Olivers (2019) Humans can efficiently look for but not select multiple visual objects. ELife 8, e491305
A Nuthmann, F De Groot, F Huettig & CNL Olivers (2019) Extrafoveal attentional capture by object semantics. Plos one 14 (5), e02170515
IEJ de Vries, J van Driel & CNL Olivers (2019) Decoding the status of working memory representations in preparation of visual selection. Neuroimage 191, 549-5599
D van Moorselaar, J Theeuwes & CNL Olivers (2019) Memory-based attentional biases survive spatial suppression driven by selection history. Visual Cognition 27 (3-4), 343-3502
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), 1-124
JM De Waard, E Van der Burg & CNL Olivers (2019) A Thickness Illusion: Horizontal Is Perceived as Thicker than Vertical. Vision 3 (1), 12

View full list of publications on Google Scholar