Perception in Action

Perception in Action

Perception in Action Research Group

The Perception in Action Program is headed by Associate Professor Matthew Finkbeiner, Associate Professor Anina Rich, and Professor Mark Williams at the Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University. This program is interested in the way in which the human brain processes information and uses it to act on the world. To investigate this issue we employ a variety of behavioural, psychophysiological and neuroimaging techniques.

The Perception in Action Research Group also has links with the Perception in Action Research Centre (PARC) and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD).

Group photo of Perception in Action Group membersPerception in Action Program Social Event


Example Projects

Why is monitoring for rare events so difficult and what can we do about it?

Anina Rich (Macquarie University, Alex Woolgar (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK), Mark Wiggins (Macquarie University), Jeremy Wolfe (Brigham & Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA), William Helton (George Washington University, USA)

People are very poor at monitoring for rare events: if a target is infrequent, we tend to miss it. This is a major problem in automated systems for transport and other high-consequence domains: if a computer error occurs, the operator needs to intervene quickly. Inspired by urgent real-world challenges of rail and air traffic control, this project aims to identify critical cognitive and neural processes involved in sustaining attention to moving displays under monitoring conditions. It develops a new tool for studying monitoring, and determines patterns of brain activity that predict a lapse of attention. The results will contribute to theories of vigilance as well as methods for improving performance in real-world monitoring situations.

Body perception: investigating multisensory mechanisms using bodily illusions and virtual-reality paradigms

Regine Zopf, Robert Keys, Anina Rich, Mark Williams, Vince Polito, James Moore (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK) and Stephen Pritchard

Our aim is to understand the mechanisms which underlie the formation and updating of distinct representations for one’s own body. The major focus of this project is to find out how different multisensory cues inform body perception. In a series of experiments, we investigate for example to what extent visual body form information interacts with and influences temporal perception (e.g., temporal delay detection thresholds, intentional binding).

Perceptual body distortions in eating disorders: investigating factors and mechanisms

Regine Zopf, Mark Williams, Naresh Mondraty (Northside Hospital, Sydney), Catherine Dean (Department of Health Professions, Macquarie University), Vince Polito

Body size and shape distortion is a core feature of Anorexia Nervosa – patients experience their body as fat while objectively very thin. Mechanisms and interventions for these distortions are not well understood. The aim of this project is to investigate the mechanisms and factors for perceptual body distortions and work towards developing perceptual and action-based training paradigms.

The body in interaction: investigating the interactions between body and visual object processing

Regine Zopf, Anina Rich, Alexandra Woolgar (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK), Mark Williams, Stefan Schweinberger (Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, Germany)

For efficient and safe interactions with the world our brain needs to constantly process the location and posture of the body as well as the characteristics of surrounding objects. In this project we investigate how human body information influences visual object perception. Currently, we employ fMRI and multivoxel pattern analyses (MVPA) to investigate the interaction between spatial body information and object location encoding. Furthermore, we employ behavioural paradigms such as the continuous-flash-suppression paradigm to investigate the combined visual processing of body and object information.

Improving insight from brain imaging to study the neural basis of cognition

Anina Rich, Alexandra Woolgar (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK),  Amanda Robinson, Lydia Barnes, John Duncan (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK) and Erin Goddard (McGill, Montreal)

Humans have a unique capacity for diverse, complex, thought and behaviour. To achieve this, our brains need to rapidly and flexibly reconfigure, directing attention to different aspects of the world moment-to-moment as we think and act. This project aims to combine innovative analysis methods with state-of-the-art neuroimaging and brain stimulation to understand how key brain regions drive this process. The outcomes will be new methods that link brain activation to behaviour, improving insights from brain imaging, and better understanding of the neural basis of cognition. This will benefit Australian cognitive neuroscience and support the development of evidence based approaches to key areas of public concern such as health and education.

Sensorimotor learning and expertise in minimally invasive surgery

David Kaplan, Mark Williams, Paul Sowman, Chris Hewitson (Cognitive Science, Macquarie University), John Cartmill, Andrew Gilmore (Macquarie University Hospital)

It is now common for surgery in virtually every specialty to use minimally invasive surgery (MIS) where possible rather than traditional open surgical methods. MIS is better for patient outcomes and less costly, but requires more training for surgeons to become experts. The complex sensorimotor transformations required to dexterously manipulate surgical instruments through small incisions, guided only by visual input provided via an endoscopic camera, makes MIS both difficult to master and exceptionally interesting from a neural plasticity perspective. Using behavioural and neuroimaging approaches, this project aims to identify what factors influence training time and competence and how the brain changes to support this kind of surgical expertise with the goal of improving training.

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

Matthew Finkbeiner, Samantha Parker

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.

Seeing sounds and hearing odours: Synaesthesia @ Macquarie University

Anina Rich, Marguerite Rowe, Lina Teichmann

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. We have the largest database of synaesthetes in Australia and our ongoing work has been featured in numerous media outlets.

A neural marker for receptive language ability in minimally-verbal children with autism

Alexandra Woolgar (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK), Selene Petit, Nicholas Badcock, and Lydia Barnes 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some children with autism who do not speak nonetheless have good understanding of spoken language. In this project we aim to devise a neural marker for this ability – a brain response that indicates whether a child understands what they hear. We are currently running studies with typically developing adults and children in aid of finding such a response that is detectable at the individual level. We are developing a number of different paradigms: comparing children's responses to congruent and incongruent sentences presented in the context of engaging visual animations, analysing the brain wave oscillations that are entrained by viewing rapidly presented words, and examining blood flow changes when children generate words in their heads. We are also doing work to determine the best technology for this purpose: comparing the signals recorded with a new commercially available gaming system (which is portable and much faster to setup that traditional systems) to research grade EEG systems and transcranial doppler.

Motor control, executive function and speech production

Paul Sowman, Andrew Etchell (University of Michigan), Leidy Castro-Meneses (Western Sydney University), Paul Tawadros (Notre Dame University Australia), Jordan Wehrman, Di Zhu, Oren Civier (Weizmann Institute), Kirrie Ballard (Sydney University)

This research program investigates the motor control processes that enable fluent speech and the sensorimotor interactions that enable rhythmic motor performance. A particular interest is in how motor output is sequenced and controlled in a time, both as a function of (predictable) future and past events. We are also interested in the inhibitory control of motor action, in particular vocalisation. We study special populations, such as bilinguals, people who stutter, people with apraxia of speech and people who have Tourette syndrome. Our research uses electrophysiological techniques such as EEG, MEG and non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS/tDCs).

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

David Kaplan (Macquarie University), Larry Snyder (Washington University)

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.

Bayesian integration in sensorimotor learning

David Kaplan, Chris Hewitson

In this area of research, we focus on a major emerging paradigm shift currently underway in neuroscience involving the modelling of neural systems using the mathematical framework of Bayesian decision theory, and relatedly, treatment of the brain itself as a Bayesian machine. Recent work suggests that the brain both represents probability distributions and performs Bayesian integration during bouts of sensorimotor learning involving visuomotor perturbations. However, evidence for these claims remains inconclusive. Using psychophysical methods, we seek to provide additional behavioural evidence to constrain Bayesian accounts of sensorimotor learning. Specifically, we are testing whether Bayesian sensorimotor learning is limb-specific by asking whether subjects who learn the statistical distribution of a visuomotor perturbation task using one arm will show similar compensation when tested with the other arm. Although interlimb transfer is a well-established paradigm for investigating visuomotor learning, it remains unknown whether the internal statistical representation of the task domain that subjects learn using one limb transfers across limbs, and if so, how readily this transfer occurs. This research will provide critical information about whether Bayesian sensorimotor learning is represented in an effector-specific or effector-general manner in the human motor system, and will deepen our understanding of the general role that Bayesian modelling approaches play in neuroscience.

Expertise in visual search of medical and non-medical images

Ann Carrigan, Anina Rich, Susan Wardle (National Institute of Health, USA), Kim Curby.

As soon as we open our eyes, our visual system is capable of processing an enormous amount of detail in a short space of time. In medical imaging, a radiologist is required to make critical decisions when searching through and interpreting a medical image. It has been proposed that their diagnostic decision is based on a comparison between the image presented and an internal cognitive template, or schema of what “normal” represents. With experience, this process occurs rapidly and studies have shown that the basis of diagnostic decisions occurs in the initial glance at an image. Using psychophysical experiments, we investigate how this attentionally-demanding visual search process works, potential cognitive bias and the features that separate naive observers and experienced radiologists. These studies increase our understanding of the processes underpinning the early stages of visual search. Overall, this research contributes to a larger goal of reducing diagnostic errors in radiology and medical screening.

Integrative models of identification and creativity in cultural cognition

Nicolas J. Bullot (Charles Darwin University, NT), Anina Rich, Mark Williams, Rolf Reber (University of Oslo, Norway), William (Bill) Thompson, Kate Hardwick, and Amee Baird

This project aims to develop transdisciplinary models of the ability to identify, learn from, and interact with agents and artistic works. The philosophical methodology of the project aims to bridge the gap between the cognitive science of perceptual mechanisms and the contextualist theories of identification developed in the humanities and social sciences (see Bullot 2009; Bullot and Reber 2013, in press; Rich and Bullot 2014).


Research Group Leaders

  • Associate Professor Matthew Finkbeiner
  • Associate Professor Anina Rich
  • Professor Mark Williams

Current Researchers

  • Dr Nick Benikos
  • Dr Nathan Caruana
  • Associate Professor Veronika Coltheart
  • Associate Professor Matthew Finkbeiner
  • Dr David Kaplan
  • Dr Simmy Poonian
  • Associate Professor Anina Rich
  • Dr Amanda Robinson
  • Associate Professor Paul Sowman
  • Professor Mark Williams
  • Dr Alexandra Woolgar
  • Dr Regine Zopf

Current PhD Students

  • Olivia Brancatisano (Supervisor: Paul Sowman)
  • Erika Contini (Supervisors: Mark Williams, Thomas Carlson, & Susan Wardle)
  • Kate Hardwick (Supervisors: Mark Williams & Anina Rich)
  • Haleh Khoshkhouy Delshad (Supervisors: Mark Williams & Anina Rich)
  • Ana Muerteria (Supervisor: Paul Sowman)
  • Samantha Parker (Supervisor: Matthew Finkbeiner)
  • Marguerite Rowe (Supervisor: Richard Stevenson & Anina Rich)
  • Margaret Ryan (Supervisor: Paul Sowman)
  • Felice Smith (Supervisors: Mark Williams, Thomas Carlson & Anina Rich)
  • Lina Teichmann (Supervisors: Anina Rich & Thomas Carlson)
  • Jordan Wehrman (Supervisors: Paul Sowman & David Kaplan)
  • Christopher Hewitson (Supervisors: David Kaplan & Paul Sowman)
  • Lydia Barnes (Supervisors: Alexandra Woolgar & Nicholas Badcock)
  • Selene Petit (Supervisors: Alexandra Woolgar & Nicholas Badcock)

Current External Associates

  • Dr Nicolas Bullot
  • Dr Thomas Carlson
  • Associate Professor Veronika Coltheart
  • Dr Genevieve Quek


Past Students

  • Dr Shahd Al-Janabi
  • Dr Ann Carrigan
  • Dr Leidy Castro-Meneses
  • Dr Rocco Chiou
  • Erika Contini
  • Dr Andrew Etchell
  • Dr Tijl Grootswagers
  • Kate Hardwick
  • Dr Jade Jackson
  • Mr Robert Keys
  • Dr Yu Li
  • Dr Manjunath Narra
  • Dr Genevieve Quek
  • Dr Kimberly Weldon
  • Jasmina Vrankovic
  • Dr Astrid Zeman

Postdocs and Academics

  • Dr Nicolas Bullot
  • Associate Professor Thomas Carlson
  • Dr Brendan Ritchie
  • Dr Kiley Seymour
  • Dr Susan Wardle
  • Dr Alexandra Woolgar

Contact Us

Department of Cognitive Science
Australian Hearing Hub, 16 University Ave
Macquarie University
NSW 2109 Australia

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Content owner: Department of Cognitive Science Last updated: 12 Mar 2020 12:05pm

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