HYBRID EVENT: You can participate in person at Baltimore, Maryland, USA or Virtually from your home or work.

10th Edition of International Conference on Neurology and Brain Disorders

October 21-23, 2024

October 21 -23, 2024 | Baltimore, Maryland, USA
INBC 2024

Mary Avella

Speaker at Brain Disorders Conference - Mary Avella
Hunter College, United States
Title : Developing an online task to examine how attention to detail affects learning dynamics


Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurological disorder that affects how a person communicates and interacts with others. One way people on the spectrum are different from neurotypical people is in their attentional focus. In particular, those on the spectrum have been shown to pay close attention to detail instead of looking at “the bigger picture”. One way these contrasts manifest is through learning, where attention to detail might reflect focusing attention on the most recent information, rather than integrating over longer time periods. Because neurodiversity is a wide spectrum, it is hard to measure the difference between every autistic and normal learning style. Previous work from the Nassar lab has identified relationships between "attention to detail, " as measured by the autism spectrum questionnaire, and specific learning strategies that are overly focused on specific data points. This work was conducted as part of a small in-person study, and we hope to conduct a larger, online study to validate and extend the results. To do so, we used an online video game experiment to analyze how people learned based on the movements and changes on the screen. The video game measured how participants moved a bucket to catch money dropped by an invisible helicopter. The participant had to infer where the helicopter was, so they could catch the money to earn points. The movements of the helicopter once each new trial started varied between similar patterns and spontaneous movements, so we could measure how people would decide on where to move the bucket. We have a working, online version of the task and plan to collect behavioral data and measures of attention to detail using an Autism Spectrum Questionnaire. The initial pilot results show a mix of stable and flexible learning, with jumps in learning at changepoints between trials. Future work will scale up the study and examine whether individuals with higher attention to detail have heightened flexibility at the expense of belief stability. 


Mary Avella is a rising senior at Hunter College pursuing a degree in psychology with a concentration in Physiology Psychology. In the summer of 2023, Mary conducted research in Dr. Matthew Nassar’s lab at Brown University to understand the way autistic people learn and think. Her project focused on how neurotypical and autistic people learn in a stable or flexible way, with specific relation to attention to details. Once Mary returned to New York, she joined Dr. Peter Serrano’s at Hunter College Psychology Department for the upcoming academic year. Mary is interested in studying the autistic brain to better diagnose individuals on the spectrum, and how high-functioning, autistic people have a level of social intelligence to navigate their surroundings. She will be a summer research assistant at Yale University in the Summer of 2024 and will be working in Dr. Moitrayee Bhattacharyya’s lab. Her main goal is to learn more about neural testing and use research experiences to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience.