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James Danckert

Professor; Cognitive Neuroscience Research Area Head

Head shot of Dr. James DanckertBA (Melbourne University, Australia), MA, PhD (La Trobe University, Australia)

Contact information

Danckert Attention Group website

Neurological Patient Database website

Danckert Google Scholar Page

Former Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Cognitive Neuroscience

Recipient, 40 Under 40 Award, Region of Waterloo 

Research interests

I have two research programs in my lab that are relatively independent from one another: boredom and mental model updating.

I became interested in boredom when working with people who had suffered traumatic brain injuries – typically from things like car crashes. They reported feeling more bored than before their injury and I believed this to be an organic change in brain function not a psychological reaction. We study boredom in a wide range of ways: behavioural tasks like foraging which pit exploration against exploitation, sustained attention tasks that are by design monotonous and dull and executive control tasks that to some extent will tap into the capacity for self-control. We use neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI and more recently tDCS and we have an ongoing collaboration with an evolutionary geneticist to explore the genetic basis of boredom – all ultimately to understand the antecedents and mechanisms that give rise to boredom.

Our work on mental model updating was born out of work on the neglect syndrome – typically arising from right parietal neglect patients behave as though the left half of the world has ceased to exist. But the disorder is more nuanced than a simple model of deficient leftward orienting of attention would suggest. Patients also have problems with visual working memory, sustained attention, and temporal perception which can’t be explained by a simple problem of attention. Together with my colleague Britt Anderson we developed a theory that suggests a network of predominantly right hemisphere brain regions is important for representing regularities in the world (i.e., building a mental model) and updating those representations when contingencies change.  We work with stroke patients (we have a database of over 800 patients to recruit into research projects), fMRI and computational modelling to explore the mechanisms and neural networks important to model building and updating.

 Funding sources:

  • Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)
  • Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)
  • HSF
  • ERA

 Selected publications

  • Filipowicz, A., Valadao, D., & Anderson, B., & Danckert, J.* (in press). Rejecting outliers: Surprising changes do not always improve belief updating. Decision.
  • Isacescu, J., Struk, A., & Danckert, J. (in press). Cognitive and affective predictors of boredom proneness. Cognition & Emotion. 
  • Danckert, J., & Merrifield, C. (in press). Boredom, sustained attention and the default mode network. Experimental Brain Research Special Topic on Boredom and Mind-wandering (Guest Editor: J. Danckert). January, 2016.
  • Cheyne, J.A., Bonin, T., Wright, C., Carriere, J.S.A., Danckert, J., & Smilek, D. (2016). “You’re on ten, where can you go from there?” Tufnel problems in repeated experiential judgements. Consciousness and Cognition, 42, 311–324.IF=2.43
  • Struk, A.A., Scholer, A.A., & Danckert, J.* (2015). Self-regulatory approach to understanding boredom proneness. Cognition and Emotion, 29, 1–14. IF=3.25
  • Stöttinger, E., Filipowicz, A., Valadao, D., Culham, J.C., Goodale, M.A., Anderson, B., & Danckert, J.* (2015). A cortical network that marks the moment that conscious representations are updated. Neuropsychologia, 79, 113–122.IF=4.49
  • Stöttinger, E., Filipowicz, A., Mirandi, E., Danckert, J., & Anderson, B.* (2014). Statistical and perceptual updating: Correlated impairments in right brain injury. Experimental Brain Research, 232, 1971-1987.
  • Merrifield, C., & Danckert, J. (2014). Characterising the psychophysiological signature of boredom.  Experimental Brain Research, 232, 481–491.
  • Goldberg, Y., & Danckert, J. (2013). Traumatic brain injury, boredom and depression. Behavioural Sciences, 3, 434–444; doi:10.3390/bs3030434.
  • Danckert, J. (2013) Descent of the doldrums. Scientific American MIND, July issue, 54–59.

 Graduate course

Psych 783: Neuroimaging and Cognition

The first section of this course (~ 3 to 4 lectures worth) will introduce you to the fundamental aspects of functional MRI both in terms of the physics involved and the issues surrounding design and analysis (some comparison with other brain imaging techniques such as VEPs, TMS, PET etc. will also be covered). The second section intends to explore how fMRI can illuminate our models of various aspects of cognition, including attention, vision, language, memory and learning, executive functions, emotion and if time permits, various neuropathologies.

University of Waterloo

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