Modelling visual cognition

Theoretical background
Research projects

Perception, attention, and short-term memory

The Sapere Aude Program, Danish Council for Independent Research

Aims and Vision

Every moment our eyes receive a massive, constantly changing set of inputs. A complex sequence of mental processes enables us to perceive and attend to the most important part of this information for consciousness and action. The study of visual perception, attention, and short-term memory are classical research areas within psychology and previous decades have seen much progress in this field. Our research at the Department of Psychology at the University of Copenhagen has contributed significantly to the field. More specifically, the research has focused on formulating mathematical theories of the mental processes involved in visual perception, attention, and short-term memory (e.g. Bundesen, 1990; Bundesen, Habekost, & Kyllingsbæk, 2005; Kyllingsbæk, 2006; Kyllingsbæk & Bundesen, 2007; Kyllingsbæk, Valla, Vanrie, & Bundesen, 2007; Kyllingsbæk & Bundesen, 2009). The theoretical work has integrated a large part of the existing theoretical and empirical knowledge. Specifically, the theories partition mental function into different model parameters that can be precisely measured in psychological tests. Such accuracy is vital for assessing mental disturbances after brain damage, a clinical application that has recently been taken up by research groups around Europe (e.g. Finke et al., 2006). Moreover, we have demonstrated a close analogy between the central equations in our theory of visual attention and the activity of individual neurons in the visual system of the brain (see Bundesen, Habekost, & Kyllingsbæk, 2005; Kyllingsbæk, 2006).

The purpose of the proposed research is to take advantage of this unique theoretical position and develop a unified mathematical account of visual cognition including perception, attention, and visual short-term memory that integrates psychological and neurobiological perspectives. We will pursue this goal in four research projects described below (see Research Projects). We will explore 1) how visual objects are identified over time, 2) how visual objects are processed when they are separated in time, 3) how visual processing capacity is distributed, and 4) the nature of visual short-term memory, where visual information becomes conscious and available for voluntary action.