Monday, September 05, 2005

A Coruna: Continued

[continued from previous post]

As for the conference it was hit and miss. There seemed to be a large emphasis on neuroscience and psychophysical methods. There is nothing wrong with these methods, in fact they are very powerful ways of investigating visual phenomenon in very precise ways, but they are not the only methods for investigating visual perception. Quite a few people commented to me after the first couple of days that they were a bit disappointed with the lack of higher-order perception studies and applied cognition. As it turned out these types of studies were reserved for the last couple of days and there were quite a number of interesting posters that made up for my general feeling of “intellectual drowning” during most of the seminars.

Before the start of the conference there was a pre-symposium entitled Art and the Visual System. This was really interesting and was exactly the approach I have been trying to take during my PhD: applying scientific theories and methods to the analysis of visual art. There were a number of really interesting presentations including explanations of the Watercolour illusion (Baingio Pinna), Picasso’s cubism via visual crowding (Denis Pelli), and Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile via peripheral vision (Margaret Livingstone). Very clever stuff. The presentation I found most interesting was Semir Zeki’s (University College London) discussion of the chronoarchitecture of the brain and its relationship to sensory experience. As an example of his ideas he showed an animation of real-time brain activation whilst watching a clip from the James Bond movie Goldeneye. Brilliant stuff. Although I have to acknowledge Uri Hasson (NYU) who has previously presented similar results of neural synchrony between viewers when watching a feature film (his Science paper can be found here). Hasson presented further evidence of this synchrony at ECVP (abstract). He showed that neural activation was mostly the same if a silent film was viewed forwards or backwards with only a couple of regions showing different activation: the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) when the films depicted non-continuous shots of motion and Wernicke’s area when the shots were semantically related (i.e. the films had a plot).

There were a couple of other relevant presentations at ECVP (such as Kazuya Kito’s eye tracking study of Coca-Cola adverts….sweet industrial sponsorship) but the most relevant was Kiyoshige Suzuki’s presentation of ‘The perceptual organisation with serially presented motion picture shots’…..sound familiar? I couldn’t believe the similarity between his study and my own when I first saw it. He even used stimuli that depicted a ball moving laterally across the screen, exiting the screen, and then reappearing on the opposite edge after a cut! His mode of assessment was primarily introspective and he drew conclusions about viewer’s perception of continuity of object identity and motion across the cut where as I was using indirect methods to find evidence for the same effects (you can see my abstract here). Suzuki has presented work at ECVP twice before, one poster was an empirical reproduction of the Kuleshov experiment (2002) and the other was an earlier investigation into continuity across cuts (2004). The fact that we have both been investigating the same questions was a great shock to both of us. Suzuki seemed to get a lot out of my poster when I presented it on the Friday and we spent a lot of time together discussing our methodologies and research interests. I’m sure Suzuki will prove to be a great colleague and I hope we can stay in touch to exchange ideas and keep each other motivated about this area of research.

During Suzuki’s poster session I also had the good fortune to meet Rosanna Actis-Grosso. Rosanna, in conjunction with Luca Tommasi presented two studies investigating the perception of temporal continuity across cuts at ECVP in 1998 and 1999. Their 1998 poster (sorry, can’t find a link) showed that perception of temporal continuity across a magnification cut during a Michottean Launching event was effected by the degree of magnification. This experiment is the first empirical evidence I know of that shows how a temporally discontinuous edit can be made to appear continuous. My Watched Pot / Stopped Clock experiment owes a lot to this experiment. Their 1999 poster showed that this perception of temporal continuity is effected by the relocation and the resulting apparent motion of the main object on the screen across the cut. This conclusion supported my ideas about the effects of saccadic eye movements on continuity perception across edits. Rosanna made some very interesting comments about the poster I presented at ECVP and it is great to see that her interests still lie in this area even if she hasn’t followed up her two innovative studies.

In general ECVP was a very satisfying experience and I am very glad I went. The people I met, both socially and in an intellectual context really made the conference worthwhile and I look forward to staying in contact with as many of them as possible. Thanks again everyone and I hope to see you at future ECVPs or other visual perception conferences.

A Coruna!

So I returned from the ECVP conference last weekend (27/8) and thought it was about time I filled you in on how it was. The whole trip was lots of fun. A Coruna is a really interesting city, mixing the heat of southern Spain with the rolling green hills of somewhere like Ireland or the Scottish Highlands. The city is positioned on a hammer-head peninsula with a beautiful golden beach down one neck of the peninsula, a harbour on the other side of the neck and a Roman lighthouse on the rocky head of the peninsula. The cool air off the Atlantic makes the climate really comfortable (if a little wet at times) although the temperature of the water makes for a rather surreal beach-going experience: beautiful sand, hot sun, and F*****g freezing water!

I stayed in university accommodation on the outskirts of the city which turned out to be a rather “interesting” experience. I knew the accommodation was somewhat out of the way but I didn’t expect it to be positioned on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere! The accommodation looked like a mini holiday camp with swimming pool, cafeteria, bar, gym, ping-pong table, laundry, bingo, boules, and about 300 old Spanish women! My first afternoon at the accommodation was very surreal as it slowly dawned on me that the place was over-run by Spanish old people (the accommodation was a retreat for old people from Barcelona and Madrid for whom the summer heat was too much), nobody spoke English (even the receptionist), I couldn’t identify any other conference attendees and I was stuck without any way out of this place. It was like a bad comedy horror film! Luckily I met a couple of people during dinner and started to realise that the accommodation actually had its upside: cheap dinner served with all the wine you could drink and fabulously fun people to share it with. The people I met during the conference were what made the whole trip worthwhile (there were intellectual rewards, I’ll get on to them later). The first two people I met were James and Lucie (so sorry if this isn’t how it is spelt, Lucie) from Calgary, Canada. They proved to be the life and soul of the entire trip, especially Lucie who is a mini-whirlwind of unstoppable fun. James and I hit it off immediately, probably due to our mutual interest in applied visual cognition and eye tracking as well as the fact that we are both originally from the North West of England and seem to share the humour and personality traits associated with that. Lucie is his fiance who originally came from the Dominican Republic. Together they form this wonderfully complimentary couple that are both hilarious, endlessly enthusiastic, and adoring. Thanks guys for making my trip so enjoyable.

Staying at the accommodation bred a sense of community that I’m sure would have been lacking if I had stayed at a hotel in the city. By a couple of days into the conference there was a stable group of ECVP people who all hung around together, socialised, toured the city and attended conference sessions. Here are some of the wonderful people I met and hope to meet again:

Nicholas Pugeault – Stirling University

Zsara Hussain – Hamilton university, Ontario

Karol Myszkowski – Max-Planck Institute, Saarbrucken

Baingio Pinna - Università di Sassari, Italy

Kamal (?) – Tokyo