Saturday, 23 June 2012

Individual Variation in the Use of Perceptual Information (Specification IV)

If it is the case that perception requires the use of specifying variables, then there should be no individual variation in what information variables people use. However, as we've already seen, such variation exists: the dynamics of a collision event produces multiple kinematic patterns in the optic array, and people judging the mass ratio of colliding balls use all of these, only one of which actually specifies which ball is heavier. Even with training, people do not always find the specifying variable. 

This is an example of how the mapping between a property in the world (mass ratio) and the optic array can be one-to-many, with consequences for perception. Figure 1 on this post shows us that there is another mapping to investigate, namely the one from a perceptual array to the organism. Can this mapping also be one-to-many?  Withagen & van Wermeskerken (2009) suggest that it can, and that again training does not necessarily help.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Non-Specifying Variables in the Perception of Collisions (Specification III)

Part of Withagen's critique of specification and whether it's necessary to underpin direct perception is a brief review of some empirical literature that shows people using non-specifying variables. I want to spend a few posts reviewing these, because all good potentially sensible ideas need data to confirm whether they're right or not.

First up, the perception of relative mass after a collision. Events in the world are dynamic, that is, they involve motion caused by a pattern of underlying forces. Perceptual systems want access to the underlying dynamics of events, because this is the level at which the event is defined (Wilson & Bingham, 2001). However, perceptual systems can only detect kinematics, that is, motion - this is the perceptual bottleneck  (Bingham, 1988 and this note on dynamics and kinematics). We can only perceive the underlying dynamics of an event, according to the ecological approach, if we can detect motion that is specific to that dynamic. Runeson coined the phrase kinematic specification of dynamics (Runeson & Frykholm, 1983) and investigated whether there were such kinematic patterns and whether we can detect them. Working with Claire Michaels and David Jacobs, he has also investigated the use of non-specifying variables.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

4 PhD Studentships in Psychology

We are advertising four, fully-funded studentships in Psychology over here at Leeds Metropolitan University. I've got two projects listed on embodied cognition, one on language and one on categorisation, and I'd love to talk to any and all who are interested in applying.

There are also a number of other projects on offer from other members of the department:

  •  Impulsivity, cognitive bias and drug addiction
  •  Categorisation, social cognition and embodied cognition
  • Dreaming and memory
  • Emotions, including collective emotions, mixed emotions and cross-cultural perspectives
  • Men’s sexual thoughts and offending
  • Femininity, aggression and violence in and out of the workplace
  • Gender, work and mothering, and infertility
  • Sex and sexualities in the digital age
  • Augmented reality to improve learning
  • Children’s activity choices
  • Music and academic performance 

Here's a link to the project summaries

And here's a link to the application form

Finally, a link to the main research bursary page

Deadline for applications is 8th July

Sunday, 10 June 2012

How Information Gets Its Meaning (Specification II)

Gibson proposed that specification was required in order for perceptual information to have meaning that was tied to the world in a manner an organism could use. The concept of specification has been placed back under the microscope by recent theoretical and empirical work. Here I want to briefly summarise the theoretical argument put forth by Withagen & van der Kamp (2010), who worry that specification places too strong a constraint on what a perceiving-acting organism might find informative. They suggest that (visual) perception can still be direct with non-specifying patterns, if you stop thinking information is in the relation between the environment and the optic array but rather, in the relation between the optic array and the organism. They propose this because recent empirical work suggests that organisms can happily get around using non-specifying variables; they want to keep directness, however and they don't think Chemero's solution to the problem does the trick. I'll review the studies they cite over the next few posts; first, let's lay out the solutions they propose.

Again, I want to emphasise that this is very much a work in progress for me. I'm using these posts to come to grips with the arguments, and I don't yet endorse any of these various critiques. My goal is simply to have a clear understanding of what everyone says, so that we can evaluate those claims later on when I review some data.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Specification: What It Is, and Why We Need It (Specification I)

The first thing I need to do in a discussion of specification is explain what it is and why it's important to ecological psychology. I've tried to maintain a clear logical progression in this post, building towards the need for specification. In my next post, I'll take a first swing at explaining what specification gives us, namely a reason why information means one thing and not another.

The issue of specification comes from Gibson's (1966, 1979) analysis of visual perception, so that's where I'll start too. Most descriptions of visual perception begin with the anatomy of the eye; people note that the eye resembles a camera, and that the lens seems to focus a messy, upside down image onto the retina. The retina then pixelates that image into neural activity, and this pixelated structure then shows up in primary visual cortex (this is topographic mapping). If vision does indeed begin this way, then a huge amount of work seems to be required to take this impoverished stimulus and use it as the basis for the rich, 3D visual world we experience.

Gibson's ecological theory begins with a re-evaluation of the stimulus for vision. The first three chapters of the 1979 book are about the world and what it contains, while chapter 4 is about how this world can interact with light to produce information. Only once he lays out the information available to the organism does he begin to talk about the act of perception itself; this re-evaluation of the 'job description' for a visual system is one of his most important contributions to psychology. Gibson's reanalysis leads him to conclude that action relevant properties of the world (specifically, affordances) can be specified in the optic array, and this concept underpins the directness of his theory of perception.

The issue of specification is assumed to be critical for the success of a direct theory of perception. The traditional views propose a 'many-to-one' mapping; a given pattern of stimulation on the retina is ambiguous because it could be caused by many possible states in the world. Specification is the hypothesis that there is a 'one-to-one' mapping - a given pattern in the optic array comes from one and only one state of the world. This can happen, according to Turvey, Shaw, Reed & Mace (1981) if (and only if) the creation of information about the world is a lawful process. If the projection of world into optics is underwritten by a law and thus one-to-one, then detecting the optical pattern is equivalent to detecting the property of the world: detecting the information is perceiving the world, with no additional processing work required. Perception can be direct.

A theory of direct perception will require several elements: there must be invariant structure within the endless flow across the retina that relates 1:1 to some property of the world. To be invariant, this structure must be relational, and therefore higher order. If perception is to be direct, these higher-order invariants must be detectable as a piece, and not built out of their elements in some post-perceptual process. Only if you have all this do you have the possibility of a one-to-one mapping between the world and vision, i.e. the possibility of specification.This post lays out what this all means, and  how these pieces come together in ecological psychology.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Specification & Its Discontents

A topic that has been flying under the radar a little in Sabrina's language posts is the issue of specification. Sabrina's ecological analysis of language discusses information and what it means, but is not committed to the kind of law based account that is typically invoked in the perception-action literature. It can't - language can be used to talk about things in their absence, and it's not clear what kind of ecological laws might govern the connection between the speech event and it's meaning. Breaking specification has consequences, however, and has been a topic of some debate lately; the next few posts from me will be an in-depth look at the theoretical and empirical contributions to the debate as I try to come to terms with the idea and whether it can still support a direct theory of perception.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Inaugural 'Name Our New Blog' Competition

We have recently accepted an offer to blog on Psychology Today, where we will have an opportunity to talk to a wider popular science audience about the various crazy things we think psychology should be up to. We're very excited by the opportunity; this blog will continue to be home for all our more serious theorising and occasional whacky experiment idea but we're looking forward to trying out some of these ideas with a broader audience in mind. 

The new blog will feature some posts from here reworked for a more general audience, especially some of our embodied cognition stuff, as well as new material as we try out ideas for another project currently under development. The broad focus will be less on developing new theory, and more on introducing the core ideas to an interested audience, and to promote the existence of alternative ways to do cognitive science.

However, we need a name for the blog! The editor who contacted us suggested something like 'Against the Grain', seeing as how we spend most of our time pushing back against a lot of modern psychology. We quite like this broad idea, but we thought we might need something pithy and eye catching that also conveys a little more information. Some ideas we thought might not quite work are 'Psychology: You're All Doing It Wrong' and 'Please Allow Me To Explain My Theory To You In Excruciating Detail'*; but if you follow the blog or the Twitter feed you should get the general ball park.

We thought a Twitter/blog reader competition seemed only fair, seeing as how your support and interest is what made this opportunity available to us, so please, post your suggestions in the comments below or tweet us @PsychScientists. If you see one you like, reply to it with a vote!

*(Ed Yong has referred to my writing as 'dense but interesting' at least twice, which I like to think is a compliment but a hint :)