Thursday, January 31, 2013

Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior

Rosenberg RS, Baughman SL, Bailenson JN (2013) Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55003. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055003 (link)

A new study from Stanford University shows that being given the superhero power of flight in a virtual environment immediately changes your likeihood to help another person in the real-world:

From DiscoveryNews

"For the study, 30 female participants and 30 male participants were immersed in a foggy virtual reality city and given the power of flight — like Superman — or the experience of riding as a passenger in a helicopter. Those groups were then assigned one of two tasks: help find a missing diabetic child in desperate need of an insulin injection or leisurely tour their virtual environment. Therefore, the study was a two-by-two design, with participants assigned to one of four groups.

After their VR experience, participants were taken out of their head-mounted-display masks and asked to have a seat. While the experimenter fumbled with the VR equipment, she “accidentally” knocked over a cup of 15 pens sitting on a table near the participant’s chair.

Researchers found that participants who experienced the power of flight in virtual reality were not only quicker to help pick up the pens than their helicopter-riding counterparts, they also picked up more pens. Of the six participants that didn’t help, all were in the helicopter condition. The task of ‘helping the diabetic child’ showed no main effect; only the superpower of flight did."

This is a very nice controlled, empirical design that for once discusses the positive potential of playing computer games.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Walter Murch on the collaborative creation of continuity

"Your job [as an editor] is to anticipate, partly to control the thought processes of the audience. To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to "ask" for it- to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind or ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time." 

Walter Murch, In the Blink of an Eye (2001; 2nd edition; page 69)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Steven Spielberg on attentional synchrony

Tom Shone interviewing Steven Spielberg about Lincoln in Sunday Times Culture magazine 20/01/13

"He still goes to see movies - picks an out-of-the-way cinema, sneaks in with his wife or kids after the lights have gone down, then disappears again as the credits roll. He always takes an aisle seat and buys no food or drinks for himself. He's just there for the film, or, more specifically, the film and its audience. He loves feeling the heat rise in the cinema during an especially exciting action sequence, or after a gag has rocked everyone back in their seat.

Spielberg- "You walk into an air-conditioned, freezing theatre and, about 20 minutes in, it starts to get really hot. People start making noise and having a good time. You're lifted by it. The first thing that happens is, people stop eating. They even stop swallowing."

At this point, the third-person plural drops away. "And all of us go into a kind of lock step where, if we were watching a tennis match, you'd see that perfect synchronicity of heads going left-right, left-right. The same thing in a movie theatre, when the movie is working and the audience is galvanised, almost hypnotised, all watching the same things, all knowing where to look at the exact same's a wonderful thing. There is nothing greater than that."

sport wimbledon baltacha 1280x704 web from TheDIEMProject on Vimeo.

Monday, January 14, 2013

1+3 yr MRC PhD studentship on Autism, home eyetracking and cultural differences (Japan/UK) available

I am very pleased to be able to announce that Dr Atsushi Senju and myself have a fully funded PhD studentship starting October 2013. Details below.

The project will be utilising similar home eyetracking technology to that recently demonstrated by Tobii at CES. See the video above for a sneak peek.

We are pleased to offer a full 1+3 year MRC Industry CASE PhD studentship entitled "Going Global: Application of Portable Eye-tracking Technology to Study the Effect of Cultural Norms on the Development of Social Cognition". The studentship will be based at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, and be conducted in conjunction with Acuity ETS Limited & the Institute of Psychiatry. The studentship will cover course fees at the usual level for UK and EU studentships and a stipend in accord with research council rates.
Much of what we currently know about the developmental disorders comes from Western cultures, and few multicultural studies have been conducted. A major barrier is that the equipment for neurocognitive assessment is often expensive, heavy and requires dedicated lab space, which prevents the assessments being practicable to run in many countries, areas and communities. To overcome this challenge, we will develop a software suite with a portable and affordable eye-tracker, and use it to conduct a series of cross-cultural eye-tracking studies on social cognition in typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The successful PhD candidate will take a leading role in this project, including (1) identifying a suitable eye-tracker, developing a software suite, and testing it in the UK, (2) taking this eye-tracker suite to Japan and running the same experiment with Japanese children, and (3) testing children with ASD in both the UK and Japan.
Graduates in experimental psychology or related subjects with a good first degree are encouraged to apply. Experience in some of the relevant research areas and/or methodology (e.g. developmental psychology, autism research, eye-tracking methodology, software development) will be an advantage. Programming experience (e.g. Matlab, Java, C++) or willingness to learn is an advantage. We also expect the candidates to have a high motivation and enthusiasm to the project, good communication and person skills.

The student will receive four year training (1-year MSc and 3-year PhD) in theoretical, methodological, practical and commercial aspects of eye-tracking system. Both the academic supervisors (Dr Atsushi Senju and Dr Tim Smith) have strong track record in eye-tracking research, which will complement the industrial supervisor (Mr Scott Hodgins) from dedicated developers and distributors of eye-tracking system and from the clinical perspective (Prof. Tony Charman). Academic supervisors will also provide training of theoretical background in developmental cognitive neuroscience, autism research and cross-cultural study, development of original research design, programming of stimulus presentation and data acquisition, data recording from infants, children and clinical population, data analyses, and writing-up scientific papers and dissemination to non-academic user communities. The industry supervisor will train the student on the theory & use of eye-tracking in the first instance, and supervise the development of cognitive assessment software suite and the integration of the software suite to the portable eye-tracker.

The Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development (CBCD) at Birkbeck, University of London, has an outstanding track record in training phd students.  Our excellence in training has just been rewarded with the designation “Marie Curie Centre of Excellence for doctoral training” which places us in the top 5% of life science training centres in the EU.  Further, our national training record is reflected in the recent award of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education 2005 for “Neuropsychological work with the very young”.  Acuity ETS is the leading independent eyetracking systems vendor in the world. Acuity is the biggest customer of two of the leading eyetracking manufacturers. Acuity actively strives to encourage collaboration between clients, and to share best practice across the client base.
Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Dr Atsushi Senju
Dr Tim Smith

Further information about PhDs at Birkbeck, University of London is available from:

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Francesca Carter (

Candidates must supply a CV, full transcripts of their qualifications and a statement of no more than 500 words indicating what skills and academic and professional experience you can bring to this project and why you consider you would be the best person to undertake this research.  If possible, this should include evidence of your knowledge of the relevant literature in the field.

The deadline of application is 1 March 2013. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in late March.