2016 Keynote – Sabine Kastner

Sabine Kastner, Ph.D.

Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology

Neural dynamics of the primate attention network

Saturday, May 14, 2016, 7:15 pm, Talk Room 1-2

The selection of information from our cluttered sensory environments is one of the most fundamental cognitive operations performed by the primate brain. In the visual domain, the selection process is thought to be mediated by a static spatial mechanism – a ‘spotlight’ that can be flexibly shifted around the visual scene. This spatial search mechanism has been associated with a large-scale network that consists of multiple nodes distributed across all major cortical lobes and includes also subcortical regions.  To identify the specific functions of each network node and their functional interactions is a major goal for the field of cognitive neuroscience.  In my lecture, I will challenge two common notions of attention research.  First, I will show behavioral and neural evidence that the attentional spotlight is neither stationary or unitary. In the appropriate behavioral context, even when spatial attention is sustained at a given location, additional spatial mechanisms operate flexibly and automatically in parallel to monitor the visual environment. Second, spatial attention is assumed to be under ‘top-down’ control of higher order cortex. In contrast, I will provide neural evidence indicating that attentional control is exerted through thalamo-cortical interactions.  Together, this evidence indicates the need for major revisions of traditional attention accounts.


Sabine Kastner is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology. She also serves as the Scientific Director of Princeton’s neuroimaging facility and heads the Neuroscience of Attention and Perception Laboratory. Kastner earned an M.D. (1993) and PhD (1994) degree and received postdoctoral training at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and NIMH before joining the faculty at Princeton University in 2000. She studies the neural basis of visual perception, attention, and awareness in the primate brain and has published more than 100 articles in journals and books and has co-edited the ‘Handbook of Attention’ (OUP), published in 2013. Kastner serves on several editorial boards and is currently an editor at eLife. Kastner enjoys a number of outreach activities such as fostering the career of young women in science (Young Women’s Science Fair, Synapse project), promoting neuroscience in schools (Saturday Science lectures, science projects in elementary schools, chief editor for Frontiers of young minds’ understanding neuroscience section) and exploring intersections of neuroscience and art (events at Kitchen, Rubin museum in NYC).