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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Science
January 31, 2015
Canadian Excellence


Attention Laboratory

Principal Investigator: Dr. Elizabeth Olds

Research Summary: Work in Dr. Olds’ laboratory investigates how certain portions of the visual scene are selected for in-depth processing, while others are virtually discarded. Projects are designed to investigate human visual selection by having observers perform a variety of tasks, including visual search, change detection, and target identification. Measurements of accuracy, and response time, are used to make inferences about the mechanisms in the brain that perform visual selection and identification tasks.

Implications of the Research: It now seems commonplace to mention looking for tumours in medical images, or navigating vehicles through complex territory using complicated instrument panels, as applications for any research on visual attention. However, it is the common nature of these tasks, and the potential dangers that could be avoided if the properties of human visual selection are understood and taken into account, that have made discussions of these issues so ubiquitous. Given the overwhelming amount of information available to vision, and given the limitations of perceptual and cognitive resources, an organism’s survival depends on fast selection of subsets of that information for in-depth processing. Early selection mechanisms affect virtually all visual processing, and the research proposed here will increase our understanding of the way the relevant mechanisms behave and interact. Researchers use a variety of experimental tasks to investigate how this selection occurs. Search tasks are common in everyday life and one of the goals of the Attention Laboratory is to determine what kinds of information can facilitate performance, within a controlled lab environment. Often, both in the real environment and in a controlled lab setting, the information to be detected or identified may be presented briefly and then obscured in some way ‘masked’ by another stimulus. Advances made by the research proposed here may be applied to improving the design of any piece of equipment that requires a human user to notice or find something. In some instances badly designed tools will have effects more drastic than mere inefficiency, for example displays for drivers and pilots. Thus, in addition to clarifying basic issues, this work will provide further important design principles for the development of effective software tools and other user interface devices.

Go to Attention Laboratory pages