Jostling Attention with Jocelyn

Mabson’s studies are focused in identifying the limits of human attention 

Jocelyn Mabson, honours student at Mount Allison


We‘ve all been there, taking notes while listening to your jams, and all of a sudden you’re writing out the lyrics instead of your assignment. Attention, memory, and subsequent performance are intrinsically linked, but the full extent of their connectivity is still relatively unknown. Sitting in her lab in Crabtree, Jocelyn Mabson contemplates the relationship between these factors for her honours study. 

In her final year, Mabson has had a lot of experience researching for Mt. A’s psychology department after completing an independent study last year. “My independent study was the first time I really got involved with the practical, applicable, side of psychology, rather than just theory. I really loved it,” she laughed. “Obviously that’s why I decided to apply and continue on with an honours degree.” 

Mabson’s thesis work focuses especially on attention. “Generally, my work is looking at attention and memory. Attention is linked to how we interact with the world, like a filter,” she explains. “We are able to target things to focus on as well as things to ignore, which, along with environmental factors, contributes to how and what we can remember. The more focused we are on something, the more attention we pay to it, the more likely we are to remember. When we give people additional demands, it can decrease their ability to attend and their resulting performance also goes down. My study is looking at the link between task load, attention, and memory performance.”

The primary focus of Mabson’s research is identifying the limits of human attention through a clinical study. According to Mabson, COVID has been the biggest hindrance to her project this year. “It was difficult reworking our experiment to allow for participation to be online, through Teams.” In general, COVID has been the downside of her honours this year. “It’s really challenging not seeing my colleagues and advisor in this project face to face, not to mention how isolating the whole pandemic has been. In a weird way, it has actually made me really sad about not presenting my work at the end of year honours meet, something I never thought I’d be disappointed to miss, because I get so nervous public speaking,” Mabson laughed.

On the flip side, Mabson relishes her honours experience, particularly the community her research has built. “I know it sounds cheesy, but feeling like a part of the department, being supported, included, and actively adding to the community has been really rewarding. I especially value the relationships I’ve gained with my professors, continuing these relations through COVID has been a great touchstone for me.” Looking towards her future, Mabson says she considers herself very lucky to be at a school which provides such research opportunities. 

“I am planning on attending grad school for counselling or clinical psychology, and I think my research in attention and memory can be transferred to those careers. Having a research background will be beneficial in how I understand and relate to patients in the future.” Mabson pauses for a moment before continuing, “I think it’s really important to take advantage of Mt.A’s research opportunities. Reaching out to professors who’s classes are particularly enjoyable can be incredibly intimidating– I got so nervous about reaching out. But once you do you realize that profs are just people who really love what they do; and they love to talk about it. I mean most professors’ research is just their entire bread and butter!”

Mabson’s study will be seeking participants this semester, those looking to participate should keep an ear out for announcements from the psychology department. The findings of this project will go on to continue to help build the foundation of understanding the relationship with different functions of the human mind. 

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