Chair and department head

Jan Theeuwes

Chair and department head

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


In 2012 I received an ERC advanced grant `What you get is what you see: How Reward Determines Perception’. In this project I investigated the effects of reward on attentional selection. In 2019, I received a second ERC advanced grant titled “What to expect when you are not expecting it: How implicit regularities drive attentional selection”. In this project I will investigate how we learn to extract statistical regularities from the environment and how this affects attentional selection. Extracting statistical regularities from the environment is one of the most fundamental abilities of any living organism. This type of learning is largely unconscious, unintentional, and implicit that runs "in the background", both seeking and giving structure to the world around us, making it coherent, predictable and quickly manageable. During the coming years I will examine on how, when and what is learned, how learning affects attentional selection, and how flexible learning is in a changing environment.


After obtaining a BSc in Mechanical Engineering (1981), I studied Psychology at Tilburg University receiving a BSc and MSc in Experimental Psychology (1987) with the highest honour (cum laude). In 1992 I received a PhD from the Vrije Universiteit (advisor A.F. Sanders) with the highest honor. I worked from 1988 until 1999 at the TNO Human Factors Institute in Soesterberg conducting applied research for governments, car companies (BMW, Caterpillar Volvo) and the EU. In 1999 I was appointed full professor at the VU. I have published more than 250 peer-reviewed papers. In 2010 I was elected into the Royal Dutch Academy of Science (KNAW). In 2001 I was awarded the first Bertelson Award in recognition of outstanding psychological research from the European Society for Cognitive Psychology. I was the president of ESCOP from 2016 to 2018. I am one of the principal advisors of the Dutch Department of Transportation (Rijkswaterstaat) regarding road design and signing. Last year, with two former PhD students I started a new company named Attention Architects, which focuses on eye tracking in applied settings

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

F van der Horst, J Snell & J Theeuwes (2020) Finding counterfeited banknotes: the roles of vision and touch. Cognitive research: principles and implications 5 (1), 1-14
B Wang & J Theeuwes (2020) Salience determines attentional orienting in visual selection.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 46 (10 …1
D Duncan & J Theeuwes (2020) Statistical learning in the absence of explicit top-down attention. Cortex 131, 54-65
Y Gao & J Theeuwes (2020) Independent effects of statistical learning and top-down attention. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 1-121
M Le Pelley, P Watson, J Theeuwes & S Most (2020) Reward learning and statistical learning independently influence attentional priority of salient distractors in visual search. PsyArXiv
J Theeuwes & M Failing (2020) Attentional Selection: Top-Down, Bottom-Up and History-Based Biases. Elements in Perception
J Snell & J Theeuwes (2020) A story about statistical learning in a story: Regularities impact eye movements during book reading. Journal of Memory and Language 113, 1041272
AS Li & J Theeuwes (2020) Statistical regularities across trials bias attentional selection.. Journal of experimental psychology: human perception and performance 46 (8), 860
S Kong, X Li, B Wang & J Theeuwes (2020) Proactively location-based suppression elicited by statistical learning. Plos one 15 (6), e0233544
X Li, Z Xiong, J Theeuwes & B Wang (2020) Visual memory benefits from prolonged encoding time regardless of stimulus type.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
B Wang & J Theeuwes (2020) Implicit attentional biases in a changing environment. Acta Psychologica 206, 1030642
F van der Horst, J Miedema, J Snell & J Theeuwes (2020) Banknote verification relies on vision, feel and a single second. De Nederlandsche Bank Working Paper
S Jahfari, J Theeuwes & T Knapen (2020) Learning in visual regions as support for the bias in future value-driven choice. Cerebral Cortex 30 (4), 2005-20181
M Failing & J Theeuwes (2020) More capture, more suppression: Distractor suppression due to statistical regularities is determined by the magnitude of attentional capture. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 27 (1), 86-955
Y Gao & J Theeuwes (2020) Learning to suppress a distractor is not affected by working memory load. Psychonomic bulletin & review 27 (1), 96-1042
P Watson, D Pearson, J Theeuwes, SB Most & ME Le Pelley (2020) Delayed disengagement of attention from distractors signalling reward. Cognition 195, 1041253
B McCoy, RP Lawson & J Theeuwes (2020) Attention and reinforcement learning in Parkinson's disease. bioRxiv
P Watson, D Pearson, SB Most, J Theeuwes, RW Wiers & ME Le Pelley (2019) Attentional capture by Pavlovian reward-signalling distractors in visual search persists when rewards are removed. Plos one 14 (12), e02262843
E Van der Burg, J Cass & J Theeuwes (2019) Changes (but not differences) in motion direction fail to capture attention. Vision research 165, 54-632
JC Van Slooten, S Jahfari & J Theeuwes (2019) Spontaneous eye blink rate predicts individual differences in exploration and exploitation during reinforcement learning. Scientific reports 9 (1), 1-134

View full list of publications on Google Scholar