Monday, 17 July 2017

Dear Disney; Let Me Help You VR

Disney posted a video recently from some researchers getting people to catch real balls in virtual reality (VR). It was a nice demo of some technology, and I don't actually want to be down on these researchers, but of course the psychology was lacking and there were some weird moments which I thought I would note for posterity. Also, Disney researchers, if you're reading, call me :)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ecological Information Is a Perceptual Mapping That Tracks Evolutionary Fitness

Interface theory in cartoon form. Thanks to Louise
Barrett for reminding me this exists :)
In my last post I was thinking out loud about some ecological lines of attack on interface theory (Hoffman et al, 2015). The first line of attack (Hoffman et al mischaracterise Gibson) fell over eventually; they don't quite go at it right, but using ecological information does fit their definition of a naive realist perceptual strategy ( 'a perceptual strategy for which X [perceptual experience] ⊂ W [the world] and P [the perceptual mapping] is an isomorphism on this subset that preserves all structures on W'; pg 1483). The second line of attack (everything they say about veridicality vs fitness applies only to inferential, constructivist theories of perception and Gibson's not playing that game) is true but not that interesting or convincing to anyone with established views.

Thanks to chats on Twitter (thanks Greg!) and applying the basic move of 'those aren't working but IT is still weird, what's next?', my new line of attack relates to a result from their simulations.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Does Interface Theory Have Consequences for the Ecological Approach?

I've been working on a commentary about interface theory (Hoffman, Singh & Prakash, 2015) which I have previously blogged about here. I'm still interested because it is, in part, a fairly direct shot at the ecological approach and I'm always keen to break those if I can. My piece stalled out, though, so I thought I'd spend some time here thinking out loud about the argument that stalled and another critique that came up as I re-read the paper.

To unbury the lede I just finished writing: the primary thing Hoffman et al get wrong about Gibson is that they think he wanted his theory to produce veridical perceptions, not simply adaptive ones. Gibson actually wanted adaptive perceptions, but found a way in which they were also veridical. This emphasis matters; Gibson does not stand or fall on issues of veridicality. In addition, every one of Hoffman et al's big swings apply only to inferential, constructivist theories of perception; Gibson is immune on these grounds as well. All Hoffman et al have done is redraw the terrain inferential theories have to traverse, and it will be interesting to see if anyone takes the bait. But the major argument simply remains, is perception inferential or ecological, and may the best data set win.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Exploring Some Handwriting Data (Experiment 1)

I have been trying to science handwriting for a year or two now, and I've had some time to dive into some recent data I collected to address some issues coming up in earlier studies. I had first run two training studies and analysed them using the lognormal model (which I blogged about here), but I immediately realised we were facing some wild individual variation; there are many ways to produce the necessary movement kinematics for a given letter and they might all be just fine. There is no single right way to produce a letter, so long as it's legible.

I therefore ran a simple study to quantify the within and between participant variation in letter production, as measured using the lognormal parameters nbLog and SNR/nbLog. A quick reminder; SNR is the signal-to-noise ratio and is a measure of the model fit; nbLog is the number of lognormal curves needed to fit the data; and the ratio of the two takes the model fit and penalises it by how hard the model had to work to get there. The data are here if you care to play

Participants viewed each letter of the alphabet, one at a time on a screen. Their job was to simply write that letter on a Wacom tablet where I could record the 2D kinematics of their movements. People saw each letter 10 times in a fully randomised order for a total of 260 trials.

Note: what is coming is entirely exploratory. I am literally just poking around to map out what I'm up against given the nature of the DVs. I am still figuring out the right analysis to capture what I want to say, so any thoughts welcome. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Some Thoughts on Handwriting

A few years a go I reviewed a paper about a method, the sigma-lognormal model, to quantitatively assess handwriting (Plamondon et al, 2013). I was interested because I had in the past worked with children with developmental coordination disorder on a project developing ways to take better movement assessment out of the lab and into the clinic, and handwriting is a) something kids and their parents value and want to improve but b) is a beast to quantify. 

Réjean Plamondon kindly sent me his analysis software to play with, and I have three experiments worth of data I am currently analysing in an effort to assess whether it can help me find what I want. Here I'll briefly review the model, the experiments and some lessons I've learned training myself to write with my nondominant right hand.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Ecological Approach, Explained to an 8 Year Old

About 3 weeks ago I got an email from a person who had found our blog via Robert Epstein's piece 'The Empty Brain'. The email said
I've had a good read this afternoon, and it has been informative to some degree, however ...
I have an 8 year old son, and due to questions we both have, we have had some very interesting laypeople's conversations about the nature of experience and "the mind" (is it a thing, a physical thing, a process?) as well as such things as memory, embodiment and perception.
It seems it would be really helpful for us (and by extension, possibly many others?) if you could summarise the broad strokes of your theory in some way in which an intelligent 8 year old (and his father!) could understand.
Would this be possible?
Ed Yong has taught me that good science communication doesn't have to be dumbed down, it just has to be pitched right, and while I am no Ed Yong, I say, challenge accepted! Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Language, thought and the ecological approach; A Purple Peril

As part of a class on cognitive psychology, I give a seminar in which we talk about the research on the relationship between language and thought. In particular, I show this great talk by Lera Boroditsky as a starting point. She talks about the kind of research in this area, and talks about results such as how we linguistically interact with space and time affecting how we physically interact with these things. For example, some languages like English use an egocentric frame of reference when talking about space (e.g. describing things as being to the left or right, where the origin of this space is the speaker). Other languages use a geocentric frame of reference (e.g. describing things as being to the south of you). In order to be able to speak and understand the language, you therefore have to be able to remain oriented in space, and speakers of these kinds of languages have been shown to be capable of impressive feats of dead reckoning previously thought impossible in humans. 

The reason this is all interesting is in the context of how the field is changing how it thinks about language; is it magical, or merely interesting? If the former, language becomes a unique human cognitive capacity that requires specific neural mechanisms that serve language and nothing else. If the latter, language becomes an integrated part of our cognitive systems and we should expect it to show these connections to other capacities. 

The weight of evidence right now I think favours the latter view. In fact, one whole strand of embodied cognition (Shapiro’s ‘conceptualisation’ hypothesis strand) explicitly pursues these connections between language and other capacities, for example Lakoff’s work on metaphors being grounded in action. Language, while still phenomenal in what it can do, is not different in kind to the rest of cognition. 

The field is still very much at the ‘functional model’ stage of developing explanations, however. The research mostly just catalogues linguistic differences and cognitive differences and works to map those onto each other in a fairly metaphorical, word-association kind of way (e.g. politics is talked about in terms of left and right wing so this should connect to physical movements to the left and the right). Our ecological questions has become, what kind of mechanism might allow this kind of cross-talk, and as I’ve been chatting to students I’ve been connecting a few dots for myself. This post sketches the outline of a mechanistic, ecological research programme for attacking the fascinating problem of the relationship between language and thought.