Psychology researchers attract nearly £400,000 Leverhulme funding

Research studies to investigate the intricacies of human perception

Two Birkbeck psychology researchers have attracted nearly £400,000 in grant funding for project investigating into the complexities of human perception.

Drs Clare Press and Marie Smith, of the College’s Department of Psychological Sciences, have been successful in their funding applications to The Leverhulme Trust – one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK.

Dr Clare Press: 'The paradoxical influences of prediction on perception: Do actions silence perception?'

Dr Press has received £205,756 from the national foundation for her study which will be conducted alongside her co-investigator, Dr Floris de Lange at Donders Institute in the Netherlands. Titled, 'The paradoxical influences of prediction on perception: Do actions silence perception?', the study will test a novel model of how perception is optimised during action.

“To interact successfully with our environment we must perceive it accurately, but our perceptions are rarely exactly in tune with reality – as demonstrated recently with the sensation of the ‘white and gold dress’,” explained Dr Press, who is principal investigator on the three-and-a-half-year project.

“Perception is likely to be imperfect due to environmental and neural ‘noise’ and a need to process information rapidly. To deal with these demands, perception is thought to be influenced heavily by expectations. Expectations can be generated from a number of sources, including the presence of other sensory events (e.g. it is more likely that we see a kettle in the presence of a toaster) and, importantly, the performance of action (e.g. we expect to feel something if we tap our finger on a surface).

“In this grant we will test a novel model of how perception is optimised during action, and the similarity to optimisation processes outside of action contexts. We will use both psychophysical and neuroimaging methodologies to answer these questions across the next 3.5 years.”

Dr Marie Smith: ‘The social side of face perception: Insights from atypical development’

Meanwhile, Dr Smith has received £177,298 for her study, ‘The social side of face perception: Insights from atypical development’. She will conduct the three-year investigation into human face recognition processes, alongside co-investigators Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith from Birkbeck, and Professor Emily Farran of the Institute of Education, University College London. 

“One of our most important skills is the ability to rapidly and accurately ‘read’ information from faces. For many, however, this process is compromised, leading to interpersonal and broader difficulties functioning in our highly social world,” explained Dr Smith.

“Studying the mechanisms driving these atypical systems should provide invaluable insights into the typical functioning of our complex face-processing system. In this project we will investigate two neurodevelopmental disorders (Williams Syndrome and Down Syndrome) with unique phenotypic profiles that offer a rare opportunity to disentangle the different contributions to face-processing expertise. We will combine psychophysical and neuroimaging methodologies to address these questions over the course of the 3 year project.”

Professor Mike Oaksford, Head of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck, said: “Attracting such significant funding from the Leverhulme Trust grants is a great achievement for Drs Press and Smith, and for the Department as a whole. It is further testament to the confidence placed in the high calibre of psychological research activity that takes place at the College.”

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