As we peer out at the world, a surplus of visual input hits the retina and feeds through to early visual areas, yet much of this information fails to reach our conscious awareness. This is the result of a cognitive system that is limited to processing only a subset of the visual input from a given scene at any one point in time. To compensate, mechanisms of selective attention allow us to prioritize the processing of a restricted number of events or objects in the visual world. Consequently, our conscious experience of the world is constructed primarily of visual input originating from information to which we have attended. My research interests lie in understanding how these selection mechanisms are controlled and the criteria by which (visual) input is selected for further processing versus input that is “discarded” earlier in the processing hierarchy – operations that have important consequences for how we interact with our environment. The decision of whether to attend to information that is relevant to our immediate goals or to prioritize signals that might be unexpected and signal a threat is one we often face.
In the lab, my interest in these broader questions/topics translates into designing and building experiments to probe specific functions and properties of the human perceptual and cognitive systems. One source of information that often reaches our awareness is novel or unexpected events in the world. Currently I am working to understand how our perceptual and cognitive systems might be sensitive to such events and what exactly it means for a stimulus to be novel. To address these questions I use predominately behavioural measures such as Response Time, Response Accuracy and Eye-movements to measure the performance of subjects across various perceptual task.