1. Interaction between attention and consciousness
We investigate how attention and consciousness work independently and interact to form our visual perception. This is important because these are the main processes that together allow us to successfully interact with our surroundings. Attention and consciousness generally work synergistically, but we have recently shown that they can also work antagonistically. In this project we aim to thoroughly parameterize the interaction between attention and awareness, delimiting the situations in which attention and consciousness work together, and when their effects oppose each other. The aim is to generate a functional explanation of why it is sometimes beneficial for the brain to have attention and consciousness work in opposite ways.
2. Influence of individual traits on biological motion perception
Humans all differ in how they perceive the world. This may be largely inconsequential, but sometimes this is a life or death difference. We investigate how people differ in their perception of animate motion (i.e. action perception). We want to know how and why we differ, and if this relates to certain traits that we have. Employed methods include psychophysical methods like adaptation studies, and fMRI to investigate differences in brain function that underlie our differences in perception. We link these individual difference both to autism spectrum traits in the typical population and to autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.
3. Individual differences in automatic (pre-attentive) processing
The visual system receives more information than it can process, and therefore needs to select the likely relevant information for processing, and disregard other information. This selection process is performed by attention. Which information is considered important depends on the context, but potentially also on the individual. Autism spectrum disorder, for example, is reportedly linked to a decreased biological motion processing. We investigate in the typically developing population whether people with an increased number of autistic traits have different ways of allocating attention to biological motion, or lock pre-attentive processing on different features.
4. Measuring the influence of noise in and on the brain
The brain is an inherently noisy system. Some people's brains are more noisy than other's; will there be behavioural consequences for this? We are devising new ways to measure noise in the brain, mostly in terms of psychophysics, but also in brain imaging, and we employ these measure to see if individuals differ in terms of the noisiness of their brains. There are theoretical reasons to assume that noise is not always a bad thing, and we are interested in using the noise in the brain to achieve the best performance.