While my magical building is receiving repairs for cladding falling off ‘at inopportune times’ (I can only assume HAL is trying to attack the humans who made it self-aware and exposed it to the eternal pain of existence), I started experimenting on people again.
I study visual perception, how your brain and mind interpret visual information. I’m not looking at neuronal pathways, but rather the mechanisms underlying perception, the algorithms that make you distinguish a fork from a spoon, or let’s say… help you recognise items falling off a self-aware building as a threat and take the necessary action to avoid it (such as stepping aside in time). The challenge in studying these mechanisms is that they are inherently intangible. Certain neurons lighting up in an fMRI study can only tell you what areas are or aren’t activated during a task – they don’t inform you about the cognitive processes underlying the task. In psychology we need to come up with theories of what mechanisms might be at work, and make predictions of how these mechanisms would be expressed in human behaviours (such as reaction times or eye movements) during a task.
In my current experiment I’m testing the effect of certain properties of a fingerprint image on my participants’ perceptual experience. Studying the relationship between stimulus properties and sensations or perceptions is known as psychophysics, and is one of the oldest areas of psychology. There are various psychophysical techniques, but the one I’m currently using is a staircase procedure; meaning I increasingly make my fingerprint stimuli harder and harder to detect (by changing one image property) until my participants’ performance is disrupted. That way I can discover participants’ threshold for the property I’m manipulating – the point at which they are just able to identify patterns in a print.
And speaking of thresholds, here are some pictures of a post-conference trip to meet some friends, designed to establish your happiness threshold:
Looking forward to: more testing, setting up collaborations, hopefully more travels
Listening to: Rebirth Brass Brand!
Reading: Isabel Allende – The House of Spirits