Francesco WalkerResearch Assistant
I am working on my master thesis, under the supervision of professor Jan Theeuwes. The title of the thesis is ‘Modulation of salience by reward in experimental and real life settings’.
My name is Francesco Walker and I was born in Rome, Italy. I studied Psychological Sciences (Bsc), and I'm currently in the second year of the research master Cognitive Neuropsychology (Msc) at the VU University, Amsterdam. During my bachelor's studies I did an internship in prof. O. Blanke's lab (EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland), working with immersive virtual reality techniques and investigating out-of-body experiences. Motivated by my experience at EPFL, I decided to carry on along the path I had chosen, and wrote my Bachelor’s thesis under the supervision of Prof. S. M. Aglioti, who, like Prof. O. Blanke, has a strong interest in the use of virtual reality in experimental research. I was proud to be the youngest member of his lab, where I worked on CAVE-based experiments on self-image perception.
During the first year of the research master program I learned advanced statistical analysis and extra programming skills useful for pursuing my scientific goals and interests. Eight months after my enrollment, I was awarded the 2014/2015 VU Research Fellowship, which currently enables me to work as a student assistant with Prof. J. Theeuwes, a leading specialist in reward and attention.
In the past I was fascinated by the usage of immersive virtual reality to investigate neuropsychological phenomena. Today, I'm working on a research proposal focused on the relationship between attention and reward prediction error, an issue that has yet to be investigated in depth and which links my research to clinically important problems such as addiction, and impulsive behavior, as well as to important issues in basic neuroscience (the role of dopamine in the modulation of behavior).
Attention is a challenging topic, and I find it incredibly compelling how it can be influenced, in a bottom-up fashion, by the salience of the stimulus and by reward.