Current Research Projects

My research primarily investigates aspects of the perceptual process whereby stimuli (images - photographs, artwork, computer-generated patterns) are evaluated (perceptual and cognitive processes) through a particular individual’s filters (affective state, personality and cognitive traits, culture, current environment, and past experiences). Tangentially related projects are also pursued, but for all of these my work draws on elements of image processing, statistical analysis, experimental psychology, vision science, aesthetics, and cognitive neuroscience. Together, this research tells us about the human visual system, perceptual and affective influences on decision making processes.

Images and Image Statistics

In one line of projects we are investigating how the statistical properties of images vary from one image to another. One aspect of this requires gathering large sets of images containing a particular type of content (e.g., natural landscapes, portraits, streetscapes). If we are gathering the pictures ourselves, we also consider whether we are holding constant or varying factors such as perspective and exposure (governed by focal length, aperture, and shutter speed). We measure aspects of the images such as intensity, color composition, and complexity using a variety of computer algorithms. This allows us to identify commonalities in particular types of image content (landscapes, portraits, etc.) as well as to characterize the extent to which there is variability in the statistical properties - within and across such sets of images. We also use the images (and other works of art) as stimuli in our human research studies. This offers a major benefit in that we can assess the extent to which the images’ naturally varying statistical properties impact human behavior, and control or manipulate these features in our studies.

Perceptual and Aesthetic Responses to Images

In a second set of projects, we test hypotheses about perceptual processes and aesthetic responses along with a variety of other behavioral outcomes. In the lab, we may simply ask participants to rate how attractive a particular image is, while recording their response and reaction time. Alternately we may ask the participant to make more complicated judgments or focus on a particular aspect of the stimulus images. These studies often entail rating photographs (from landscapes to portraits to isolated body parts such as hands) or computer generated images (e.g., fractals) and completing survey measures.

Individual Differences Affect Responses

Central to our image statistics and human behavior research is the notion of individual differences, and how these impact behavior. In addition to measuring the physical properties of images (an interest which grew from my interest in individual differences research in psychology) and peoples’ responses to them, we measure variables that are theoretically related to our outcome variables such as disgust (using the Disgust Scale, which assesses disgust sensitivity to various domains such as contamination-based disgust and animal remainder disgust, for our study of negative aesthetic responses in collaboration with Dr. Anna Marie Medina) or loneliness (in a collaboration with Dr. Sarah Arpin) to test the predictions of various psychological and aesthetic theories.