Robert Dowman

Professor Emeritus
Department(s) / Center(s)
Robert  Dowman Headshot

Education Background

Ph.D. - 1984 Northwestern University

Courses Taught

  • Perception
  • Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Research Interests

Dr. Dowman’s work is aimed at understanding how the brain detects a biologically-significant stimulus, such as pain, and re-directs attention towards it. This fundamental cognitive process is critical to our survival and has been shown to play an important role in the development of some anxiety disorders (e.g., phobias) and some types of chronic pain. We study this phenomenon using event-related potentials (ERPs) recorded non-invasively from the scalp to identify the brain areas involved in detecting the biologically-significant stimulus and re-orienting attention. We also perform psychophysical studies to document behavioral evidence for the attentional bias, such as faster reaction times and more accurate responses towards the biologically-significant stimulus. The ERP studies have identified a network of brain areas that are important in detecting and reorienting attention. These areas include the sensory areas of the cerebral cortex (e.g., the dorsal posterior insula for painful somatic stimuli) and areas important in attentional control, such as the medial and lateral prefrontal cortices, and the locus coeruleus. Dr. Kathleen Kavanagh, Ben Ritz (Math and Computer Science) and I have developed an artificial neural network model of this system that provides excellent quantitative fits of the previous behavioral and the brain activation data, and has resulted in 2 possible mechanisms underlying the attentional bias towards biologically relevant stimuli.  Dr. Dowman and his undergraduate students (Kate Wolf, Jevon Benson, and Jaquan Vidot) recently completed a series of experiments that provides evidence supporting one the mechanisms identified in the modeling work. The modeling studies have been published in Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, and the experimental work is currently being prepared for publication.


(last 5 years; students in boldface)

  • Dowman, R., Ritz, B., & Fowler, K. (2016). A connectionist modeling study of the neural mechanisms underlying pain’s ability to reorient attention. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 16, 689-708.
  • Dowman, R. (2014). Neural mechanisms underlying pain’s ability to reorient attention: Evidence for sensitization of somatic threat detectors. Cognitive and Affective Behavioral Neuroscience, 14, 805-817.

Conference Presentations

(last 5 years; students in boldface)

  • Dowman, R., Liszczynsyj, N., Ebert, J., & Wolf, K. (November, 2016). Evidence the attentional bias towards somatic threats involves threat detectors in the dorsal posterior insula. 57th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, Boston, MA.



Office Phone Number: 315/268-3722

Office Location: 177 Science Center

Clarkson Box Number: CU Box 5825