Since the first was held in The Netherlands in 1966, the Attention and Performance Symposia have become an established and highly successful institution. The advent of the series dates back to the summer 1966 when in Driebergen, The Netherlands, Andries F. Sanders, a Dutch experimental psychologist and ergonomist, convened a group of colleagues from Europe, Britain, and North America to discuss their burgeoning research on “performance theory” and “human information processing. ” During these discussions, several topics that formed the then prevailing core of performance theory were explored, including eye movements and visual search, attention and the single-channel hypothesis, short-term memory and information processing, reaction processes and mental chronometry, vigilance and sustained performance of continuous tasks, and physiological correlates of attention. The outcome of this exploration became embodied in a volume of proceedings (Sanders 1967) that, along with the symposium itself, was deemed to be an overall success. Inspired by the success of Sanders’s first venture and by a desire to continue pursuing various aspects of performance theory on a regular intimate basis, further international Attention and Performance symposia have been organized since 1966 (table 1). They are now held every two years, in a different country.The original purpose remains: to promote communication among researchers in experimental cognitive psychology and cognate areas working at the frontiers of research on “attention, performance and information processing”. The format is an invited workshop-style meeting, with plenty of time for papers and discussion, leading to the publication of an edited volume of the proceedings.
The International Association for the Study of Attention and Performance exists solely to run the meetings and publish the volume. Its Executive Committee selects the organizers of the next meeting, and develops the program in collaboration with them, with advice on potential participants from an Advisory Council of up to 100 members. Participation is by invitation only, and the Association’s Constitution requires participation from a wide range of countries, a high proportion of young researchers, and a substantial injection of new participants from meeting to meeting.
The stride, format and spirit of the Association and its meetings, owes much to the continuous efforts and guide of Sylvan Kornblum, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Sylvan Kornblum has served for over 30 years as the Secretary Treasurer of the Association, a role from which he retired in 1998. During this period, Kornblum has been the power, manager, leader and major fund raiser, for all of the Association activities. His inspiration and wisdom were a major contribution to the Association’s survival, progress and success.
Held usually in a relatively isolated location, each meeting has four and a half days of papers presented by a maximum of 26 speakers, plus an invited Association Lecture from a leading figure in the field. There is a maximum of 65 participants (including the current members of the executive committee and the organizers). There are no parallel sessions, and all participants commit themselves to attending all the sessions. There is thus time for substantial papers followed by extended discussion, both organized and informal, and opportunities for issues and ideas introduced at one point in the meeting to be returned to and developed later. Speakers are encouraged to be provocative and speculative, and participants who do not present formal papers are encouraged to contribute actively to discussion in various ways, e.g. as formal discussants, by presenting a poster, or as contributors to scheduled discussion sessions. This intensive workshop atmosphere has been one of the major strengths and attractions of these meetings. Manuscript versions of the papers are refereed anonymously by other participants and external referees and published in a high-quality volume edited by the organizers, with a publication lag similar to many journals. Unlike many edited volumes, the Attention and Performance series reaches a wide audience and has considerable prestige. According to the Constitution, “Papers presented at meetings are expected to describe work not previously published, and to represent a substantial contribution…” Over the years, contributors have been willing to publish original experimental and theoretical research of high quality in the volume, and this tradition continues. A&P review papers have also been much cited. The series has attracted widespread praise in terms such as “unfailingly presented the best work in the field” (S.Kosslyn, Harvard), “most distinguished series in the field of cognitive psychology” (C. Bundesen, Copenhagen), “held in high esteem throughout the field because of its attention to rigor, quality and scope…indispensable to anyone who is serious about understanding the current state of the science” (M.Jordan, MIT), “the books are an up to the minute tutorial on topics fundamental to understanding mental processes” (M. Posner, Oregon).
In the early days of the Symposium, when the scientific analysis of attention and performance was in its infancy, thematic coherence could be generated merely by gathering together the most active researchers in the field. More recently, experimental psychology has ramified, “cognitive (neuro)science” has been born, and converging approaches to the issues we study have developed in neuroscience. Participation has therefore become interdisciplinary, with neuroscientists, neuropsychologists and computational modelers joining the experimental psychologists. Each meeting now focuses on a restricted theme under the general heading of “attention and performance”.