PeerJ Award Winners at ECVP 2022

The European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP) is a unique annual conference on visual perception research and connected fields. Researchers from all parts of the globe convene to discuss the latest research on all aspects of visual perception, regardless of the scientific discipline (such as vision science, psychology, neuroscience, biology, computer vision). The conference provides a forum for presentation and discussion of new developments in our understanding of human, animal and machine vision from empirical, theoretical and applied perspectives. It is usually held in one of the European university cities (see https://ecvp.eu/ for previous editions), and is organized by a local team. This year, the 44th ECVP took place between August 28 and September 1 in the pleasant city of Nijmegen. With over 650 participants from over 40 countries all on site, the conference was a huge success. Registrants and followers can continue to watch recorded sessions and poster presentations through their ECVP Slack workspace up to a month after the conference. Next year, the ECVP will take place in Paphos, Cyprus from 27th to 31st of August (https://cyprusconferences.org/ecvp2023).

Jeroen Goossens, organising committee

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Irene Petrizzo PhD candidate, University of Florence, Italy.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a PhD student in the Florence branch of the Pisa Vision Lab under the supervision of Professor David Burr and Professor Roberto Arrighi. I spent the first semester of 2022 as a visiting researcher at the Center for Applied Neuroscience, at the University of Cyprus, under the supervision of Dr. Kyriaki Mikellidou and Prof. Marios Avraamides. My interests are primarily centered on visual perception and in particular space, time and numerosity. This field of research has led me in the past year to focus my interest on the perception of the space around us and peripersonal space, which is the space immediately surrounding our bodies.

What first interested you in this field of research?

The ability of the visual system of converting the impulse generated by simple photons hitting the retina into a conscious and informative representation of the surrounding has always fascinated me and this has first led me to the study of visual perception. However, not all the space around us is of the same priority to us, as the existence of neurons dedicated only to the perception of stimuli positioned in the peripersonal space testifies. Even more strikingly the peripersonal space is not static and can be rapidly recalibrated through experience. My aim is to further our knowledge on the properties of this space and deepen the understanding of its mechanisms.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the ECVP 2022?

During the European Conference on Visual Perception I presented our preliminary work on the mechanisms that regulate the remodulation of peripersonal space as a consequence of the range of our reach. Indeed, there had been previous reports of a brief period of training using a tool to reach in far space being enough to trigger a reshaping of the size of the peripersonal space. By comparing the size of the peripersonal space in participants before and after various types of training we found that the type of action performed can trigger opposite effects. In particular we found that training to retrieve or to push away small objects using a shovel causes an enlargement of the peripersonal space, suggesting that the direction of motion on the distal plane is not crucial. On the other hand, we found that performing an up and down motion in the extrapersonal space and sending objects in the extrapersonal space without limbs motion can trigger an opposite effect on the peripersonal space, by slightly shrinking it.

How will you continue to build on this research?

While our results until now are very informative, they still do not provide a definitive answer as to which specific characteristics of the training trigger the reshaping of the peripersonal space. For this reason, our plan is to add more conditions to our paradigm to further investigate the importance of the direction of the action or the valence of the action performed by the subjects on the reshaping of peripersonal space. This will be possible thanks to the unique properties of virtual reality that enable us to build realistic tasks while still being able to finely tune each variable presented to the participants.

 

Elisabeth Van der Hulst PhD candidate, University of Leuven, Belgium.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am Elisabeth, a PhD candidate at the University of Leuven in Belgium. After obtaining a master’s degree in theoretical and research-oriented psychology, I decided to pursue a PhD in perceptual organization. I am mainly interested in individual differences in perceptual organization and how this relates to aesthetics.

What first interested you in this field of research?

Visual illusions have been astonishing a large audience since they first appeared, even more in times where they can go viral on the internet in a heartbeat. Think about “The dress” that spiked intense discussion on its color. While most people are satisfied by the strange feeling of betraying your eyes, I wanted to know the fundamental perceptual principles of these effects. A first-year undergraduate course on perceptual organization has sparked this interest further. In my undergraduate years, I got the chance to work as a student-researcher on individual differences in perceptual organization and I have been interested ever since.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the ECVP 2022?

Within the field of perceptual organization, individual differences have long been neglected and set aside as mere measurement errors. However, when data are aggregated over observers, this can result in incorrect interpretations. At ECVP 2022 I presented research which showed that recently discovered additivity of grouping principles in (non-)competing dot lattices can be replicated on an individual level. However, digging deeper into these individual results also showed that the size of the separate grouping effects differed between individuals and these differences remained stable over time. This supports the idea that individual differences are a critical issue in perceptual organization research.

How will you continue to build on this research?

Although this research is very fundamental, in a later stage I will try to apply perceptual organization to aesthetical patterns. The aim of my project is to try to link both perceptual organization and aesthetics with a special focus on individual differences.

 

Andrea Ghiani PhD candidate, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands and ESR at ITN-OptiVisT.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I come from Italy where I studied experimental and cognitive psychology at the University of Padua. Since my early traineeships, I was fascinated by the idea of how we perceive and interact with the world around us. This led me to explore different aspects of visual perception, mainly in the lab. I used psychophysics and electrical brain stimulation to explore topics such as visual crowding and the perception of gravitational fall.

It was a tremendous learning experience and a confirmation of my passion for research in this topic. However, I realised that doing research in the lab was not really answering my questions. That is why I shifted my research towards how vision works within more realistic scenarios, including a more complex visual stimulation (that is, our environment) and the possibility of action and free navigation.

What first interested you in this field of research?

Whenever someone asks me this, a question I asked my father when I was a child pops to my mind: “Dad, why are watermelons red?”. The hidden curiosity behind this question was “Why do we perceive red as red?”. I found his answer deeply unsatisfying: “Well, because red is its color!”. Some years later, I discovered the world of cognitive psychology and the huge field of perception, and I realised that it was exactly what I wanted to study.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the ECVP 2022?

The research I presented at ECVP is about where we look when climbing a staircase. It’s a simple question, but when asking it to people, there is always a bit of doubt about it as we are usually not aware where we look when performing some actions in our daily life. Fortunately, thanks to some eye tracking technology out there, we were able to describe the visual strategy that people commonly employed when doing this common task in a familiar setting as your own house.

How will you continue to build on this research?

As my interest is on where and how we move our gaze when performing some daily tasks, I am also exploring the effect of being instructed (if you think about it, we are not usually given instructions to perform a task, and this might have an impact on how we move our eyes to explore the environment).

Later in my PhD, I am planning to apply this knowledge on people with visual problems to get a description of where and how they look when engaged in some actions to better understand their needs.

 

Gizay Ceylan PhD candidate, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am originally from Turkey and am now in the 4th year of my Ph.D. with Dr. David Pascucci and Prof. Michael Herzog at EPFL in Switzerland. My primary interests lie in the computational modeling of human cognition. In my Ph.D., I investigate the effects of past experiences on human visual perception and decisions. I use psychophysical and noninvasive neuroimaging methods to explain and model human perception and behaviours.

What first interested you in this field of research?

Understanding the human brain would be one of the most significant future successes of humankind, searching for a way to overcome its flaws. The machinery of the human brain, with all its strengths and weaknesses, has always fascinated me. My desire to understand this biological machine has met me with Neuroscience, followed by a Ph.D. in a psychophysics lab at EPFL.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the ECVP 2022?

The poster I presented at ECVP2022 is one of my doctoral research on serial dependence, a phenomenon reflecting that our perceptions and decisions are systematically biased towards the recent past. Previous studies report this bias in the presence of physical stimuli. I showed for the first time that physical stimuli are not a prerequisite, and serial dependence can occur in the total absence of visual input. In other words, what we think we see currently can be more similar to what we imagined a few seconds ago. Also, interestingly, current imagination might not be affected by recent physical stimuli. These findings are novel to the field and will help us better understand the phenomenon and underlying mechanisms in the human brain.

How will you continue to build on this research?

A promising next step would be gathering further neuroimaging data and using deep neural network architectures to search for the potential causes of serial dependence in the visual system. Especially, I believe the data obtained through electroencephalography (EEG), namely, brain electrical activities recorded with a high temporal resolution, would provide critical information for a better understanding of serial dependence.

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