Interpreting the world through our five senses
Perception refers to the way the brain takes raw information received by our senses and interprets it in a meaningful way. At UWA, we study the ability to detect, attend to and recognise features in the environment, and seek to understand the underlying processes that serve those abilities.
Perceptual processes studied by our research group cover a range of static and dynamic visual forms and objects, including faces. We also seek to understand how perceptual processes differ across individuals, such as those with autism, migraines or eating disorders.
Researchers in perception work across the following laboratories:
- Attention and Human Behaviour Laboratory
Our research is at the interface between key human cognitive abilities, such as attention and multitasking, and human behaviours across a variety of situations.
Over a century of 'basic' experimental research has taught us a lot about human cognition and perception, as well as their underlying neural mechanisms. However, we know much less about how these abilities differ across individuals and groups, or how these abilities influence everyday behaviours, like driving, or performance in specialised jobs, like the military or air-traffic control.
The goal of our work is to answer these questions by breaking through traditional divides between basic and applied research, and to focus on building a reciprocal relationship in which basic research can guide practical questions, and practical outcomes can give new insights into basic processes.
Faces convey a wealth of information that guides our social interactions. At a glance we can assess a person’s identity, gender, ethnicity, age, attractiveness, emotional state and focus of attention.
This fluency is remarkable given the difficulty of the discriminations required. We are studying the perceptual, cognitive and evolutionary mechanisms underlying this face processing expertise.
The FaceLab also hosts the Person Perception Program of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD).
If you are interested in joining the lab or taking part in an experiment, email Libby Taylor.
Academic research staff:
- Human Vision Laboratory
Vision has a central role in our relationship with the world and the way we see determines how we are able to interact with the environment. The focus of our research is on human visual performance and has concentrated on the processes involved in extracting motion, pattern and position information.
Currently the laboratory is running long-term projects examining:
- how humans perceive both the speed and direction of the type of motion produced by moving through the environment
- the processes that allow us to determine the location of objects within the environment
- the processes that allow us to determine the large-scale structure of the visual world and also how these processes are altered in migraine, glaucoma and autism
- Person and Emotion Perception Laboratory (PEPLab)
Our research aims to understand the perceptual, cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying person perception.
This often involves studying faces, as they provide information about the identity, age, sex, race, attractiveness and mood of other people, but also involves studying the perception of bodies and voices.
In addition to our work with typically developing children and adults, our lab investigates person perception in children and adults with atypical development, psychopathology or brain injury. This includes studies of developmental disorders affecting face processing (congenital/developmental prosopagnosia and autism); neuropsychological studies of people with brain injuries affecting face identity recognition (acquired prosopagnosia) and expression recognition (amygdala/orbitofrontal cortex lesions); and investigations into psychopathology affecting person perception (social anxiety, callous-unemotional traits).
Our research to date has addressed three main questions:
- What is the role of visual attention in face perception?
- Why can't some children and adults recognise facial identity?
- How do we discriminate facial expressions?
- Lab director: Associate Professor Romina Palermo
- Website: Romina’s personal academic homepage
Interested in participating in research?
Our current understanding of prosopagnosia is only limited, and further research is needed to clarify the nature of this rare condition. If you or any of your family members are experiencing face recognition difficulties, and if you're interested in participating in research, please register with us.
For more information about prosopagnosia and our current research see below:
Participant Information and Consent Form (PDF 68KB)
- Sensory Neuroscience Attention and Perception (SNAP) Laboratory
Research interests within the SNAP Lab involves three distinct arms – visual perception, clinical research and sensory neuroscience. Current projects in each of these areas are described below.
Enquiries about any SNAP Lab projects below should be directed to head of SNAP lab Dr Jason Bell.
Research in this area considers how the human visual system processes shapes and objects for recognition. Recognition is accomplished through the coordinated activation of distinct brain regions. Projects seek to discover what information is represented at each stage of processing.
Current research interests include:
- Studying the role of hemispheric specialisation in the processing of symmetry.
- The time course of visual perception. How fast and for how long do discrete visual mechanisms process content?
- The properties of the mechanisms processing visual number.
- Serial dependencies in visual perception. How and when is past information used in the processing of the present?
Dr. Jason Bell is interested in studying abnormalities of perception within particular groups. Together with associate professors Elizabeth Rieger (ANU) and Dr Susan Byrne (UWA), they are undertaking research to understand the relationship between biases in perception and or attention, and eating disorder symptomology, or obesity.
Current research interests include:
- Attentional biases to high and low calorie foods or to particular body shapes.
- Biases in the perceived healthiness of foods, or in the perceived size of female bodies.
- Attentional retraining procedures to reduce or null maladaptive processing strategies in relation to the above visual cues.
Together with Associate Professor Carmela Pestell (UWA), they are conducting studies to better our understanding of the relationship between ADHD and altered time perception.
Current research interests include:
- studies retraining timing abilities
- studies examining the role of emotional regulation in ADHD symptomology and time perception
Understanding functional specialisation in the brain is a fundamental goal of neuroscience and psychology. The lab currently offers opportunities to study the effects of neurosynchronisation and of non-invasive cortical stimulation on perception and behaviour.
Current research projects and collaborations are utilising:
- Neuroscience techniques such as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS to investigate the correlates of attention and perception.
- Neurosynchronisation techniques to understand the role of rhythmic brain activity in various aspects of attention, perception and action, with a focus on theta and alpha bands.
Associate Professor Carmela Pestell
Associate Professor Carmela Pestell is a clinician, researcher and lecturer in clinical psychology and neuropsychology, and Director of the Robin Winkler ClinicRead more about Associate Professor Carmela Pestell
Why you should let a stranger choose your profile pictures
A team of researchers from UWA, University of New South Wales and University of Sydney has found that people tend to choose more flattering photos for complete strangers than they do for themselves when posting images on social networking sites.Read more
Our brains can trick us into thinking we are thinner than we are
Researchers at The University of Western Australia have discovered that a psychological illusion could be making people think they are thinner than they actually are.Read more
Biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience
Our research combines the modern tools of neuroscience (brain imaging, brain stimulation, and recording of brain electrical and haemodynamic activity) with subtle psychological tools to analyse behaviour.Read more about Biological psychology and cognitive neuroscience
Industrial/organisational psychology and human factors
Industrial and organisational psychology and human factors at UWA examine the human element of work, aiming to improve safety, wellbeing and performance.Read more about Industrial/organisational psychology and human factors
At UWA, we study the ability to detect, attend to and recognise features in the environment, and seek to understand the underlying processes that serve those abilities.Read more about Perception
Clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology
Our clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology researchers are exploring theories and interventions to improve quality of life by understanding the causes and consequences of brain and mental disorders.Read more about Clinical psychology and clinical neuropsychology
Our work looks at how people behave in a range of contexts, from simple decision tasks, to complex cognitive and social environments. We investigate questions via experiments, surveys and simulations, and apply rigorous behavioural analysis and mathematical modelling.Read more about Cognitive science