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Perception in Action

Research in Perception in Action has led to the formation of an extremely productive and highly valued team of cognitive scientists in the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. This team of researchers does not receive funding from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, however, their research nicely complements that of the CCD research programs. Their research is focused on exploring the way that humans perceive and interact successfully in their environment. They use multiple techniques to examine the neural and cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and process the world, make decisions, and select appropriate actions.

For information about research projects conducted by the Perception in Action research group, please visit the Perception in Action website at the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University.

Group Leaders

Perception in Action Group Members

Perception in Action Group Members


Brain mechanisms underpinning flexible human behaviour: The brain that adapts itself

Alexandra Woolgar, Anina Rich, Mark Williams, Jade Jackson, Soheil Afshar (Macquarie University), Erin Goddard, Nadene Dermody (Neuroscience Research Australia) and John Duncan (University of Cambridge, UK)

Humans are characterised as being above all other animals in the diversity and flexibility of their behaviour, able to cope effortlessly in an ever-changing world. This project investigates how the brain achieves such flexible control, with a neural system that not only drives coordinated focus on our current task, but is able to flexibly reconfigure when the focus of our mental attention changes. To investigate the processes that are adopted by human brains to process and respond to sensory information, this project used non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, including fMRI and MEG. These sophisticated brain imaging techniques allow us to identify the brain areas that are activated in particular tasks as well as the kinds of information that are coded in these different brain regions. We have developed novel methods for the analysis of neuroimaging data, which enable new insights into how the brain processes information from the world and integrates it with internal representations of our goals. We use these methods to investigate the cognitive processes that occur in the frontoparietal brain regions, which have proven critical for the modulation and cognitive control of information processed in the visual cortex.

Seeing sounds and hearing odours: Synaesthesia @ Macquarie University

Anina Rich, Marguerite Rowe, Lina Teichmann and Marina Butko (Macquarie University)

Do you see colours when you think of letters? Or remember music by the visual patterns you see? Do you smell sounds, feel tastes, or hear colours? If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', you may have synaesthesia. This fascinating phenomenon can link any of the senses, although the most common link is in vision and audition. Synaesthesia provides a unique opportunity to explore how we perceive the world. By looking at the way unusual experiences arise in 'synaesthetes', we can find out more about how the brain processes incoming information from the senses and puts this information together to form our conscious experience of the world. Synaesthesia also provides insights into the role of learning and experience in human perception. Our ongoing work has been featured in numerous media outlets.

Sensorimotor interactions in speech production

Paul Sowman, Andrew Etchell, Leidy Castro-Meneses, Paul Tawadros (Australian Catholic University) and Jordan Wehrman

This research program investigates the motor control processes that enable fluent speech and the sensorimotor interactions that enable rhythmic motor performance. Our particular interest is in how predictive signals that arise in the motor cortex constrain and modulate auditory responsiveness to self-generated afference. We are also interested in the inhibitory control of motor action, in particular vocalisation. We study special populations, such as people who stutter and people who have Tourette syndrome, and our research uses electrophysiological techniques such as EEG, MEG and non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS/tDCs).

Neural mechanisms of object recognition/perception

Thomas Carlson, Mark Williams, Niko Kriegeskorte (University of Cambridge, UK); Steve Dakin (The University of Auckland, NZ), Brendan Ritchie (Macquarie University) and Steve Most

Humans can effortlessly recognise thousands of objects in a fraction of a second. This essential capacity is an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to recognise our keys, our car, and our friends and family. This program of research aims to elucidate how humans recognise objects by investigating the relationship between behaviour and the neural representation of objects in the brain.

The representation of limb position for reaching in the posterior parietal cortex

David Kaplan

In order to plan and control a reaching movement, the brain must compute the difference between the location of the target object and the current position of the limb. This computation requires information about both target and limb position. Most studies to date have focused on the neural representation of target, yet the equally important question of how limb position is represented remains poorly understood. In this research, we use electrophysiological and psychophysical methods to investigate how visual and proprioceptive information about limb position is represented and used for reach planning in the posterior parietal cortex.

The consequences of glaucoma for the human brain

Mark Williams, Anina Rich, Brendan Ritchie (Macquarie University), Susan Wardle, Margery Pardey and Stuart Graham (Macquarie University)

Glaucoma is a progressive optic neuropathy characterised by a specific pattern of optic disc damage and ganglion cell loss. If untreated, it leads to blindness and is one of the three major causes of blind registrations in Australia. Despite considerable deficits on objective testing, glaucoma patients are often unaware of their scotoma (blind spot). In the early stages of the disease, the cortex somehow 'fills in' the gaps, so patients do not see black regions associated with their loss of vision. The aim of this project is to investigate the way the brain adapts to changes in visual input due to a visual disturbance. The ability of the brain to fill in missing visual information has been well documented using 'artificial scotomas', the physiological blind spot. This study compares brain adaptations that result from scotomas to those of the physiological blind spot, or artifical scotoma, using fMRI to examine plasticity in the brain after retinal damage, and behavioural studies to examine the behavioural consequences of such plasticity. The findings of this research will help us understand the glaucoma process and possibly how to detect visual loss at an earlier stage of the disease.

Towards understanding visual perception of the body: Neuroimaging and behavioural studies

Regine Zopf, Mark Williams, Anina Rich and Marina Butko (Macquarie University)

A central question in cognitive neuroscience is how embodiment (having the kinds of bodies we have) influences our physical actions and how this shapes our perception of the world. This project aims to enhance our understanding of the influences of the body on perception and its neural underpinnings. More specifically, the project investigates how information from the hands influences how healthy observers, as well as amputees, perceive external objects. In order to understand the neural mechanisms that underlie the use of our hands to manipulate objects, we use neuroimaging techniques to demarcate the neural representations of hand form and hand orientation, paying special attention to brain areas that have been found to be recruited in planning and controlling actions.

Dynamics of word recognition: New insight from the reach-to-touch paradigm

Matthew Finkbeiner

All theories of basic cognitive processes make structural proposals about the processing components of cognitive systems, and temporal proposals about how these components interact with each other over time as cognitive processing is being carried out. The structural proposals enjoy empirical support and widespread agreement, but the temporal proposals do not. This is mainly due to the lack of a continuous behavioural measure that can reveal cognitive processes as they unfold in real time. The present project introduces a new reach-to-touch paradigm to address this problem. Using the temporal resolution afforded by this paradigm, the outcomes of this project will inform and constrain our understanding of the dynamics of cognitive processes.

The psycho-historical theory of social and cultural identification

Nicolas Bullot, Kate Hardwick, Anina Rich, Mark Williams, Rolf Reber (University of Oslo, Norway), William (Bill) Thompson, Amee Baird, Richard Heersmink, Mirko Farina, Robert Ross and Bhuvanesh Awasthi (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)

This project is developing a psycho-historical research program for the theory of social and cultural identification. It aims to explain core characteristics of the human ability to track, identify, and interact with other people (or other living agents) as well as with cultural/artistic artefacts. The methodology of this psycho-historical project relies on the development of philosophical models aimed at bridging the gap between the biological and cognitive science approaches to recognition/identification and the historical approaches to cultural identification that are used in the humanities and social sciences.

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