Perception and Action

Investigating human interactions with the world via sensory and motor processes.

Research in the group includes:

  • visual and attentional processing in complex environments
  • investigating how the brain represents time and space
  • multisensory integration
  • body representation and perception
  • aberrant perceptions and hallucinations
  • visual awareness and consciousness
  • emotion
  • links between sensory systems and more central processes such as language, music
  • cognition
  • decision making
  • auditory neural coding
  • the sensorimotor grounding of concepts

We are also interested in the role of sensory processes in disorders and deficits due to ageing and Alzheimer's Disease and in the use of sensory and motor measures as biomarkers for disease progression. Our work combines behavioural methods, brain stimulation (TMS, tDCS, tACS, tRNS), psychophysiology (EDA, SCRs, fEMG, FaceReader), state-of-the-art virtual reality, and eye-tracking with measures of the underlying neural processes using fMRI and EEG.

Facilities

Our Perception and Action Research Group uses a range of methodologies to elucidate cognitive and perceptual processes in young and ageing adults.

Our laboratories include

  • the very latest technology in brain stimulation methods (including TMS / rTMS as well as tDCS, tACS, tRNS)
  • a variety of eye-trackers
  • a state-of-the-art emotion laboratory which is home to a number of psychophysiological measuring devices
  • thermal imaging cameras
  • FaceReader systems for the quantification of emotional processing

These are all configured together for the parallel and time-synchronized measurement of a legion of variables.

We have a wet lab to allow for in-house measurement of neuroendocrine, glucose, and other psychopharmacological chemicals in both healthy and clinical populations. We also have a leading virtual reality laboratory stocked with head mounted displays, and motion capture systems utilising infrared, magnetic field, flexion, and inertial sensors. Additionally, we have a dedicated sleep laboratory with polysomnography recording, eye tracking systems, and dedicated soundproofed auditory test booths with EEG capability.‌

Members

Group Leader

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 594335 D10, D - Floor, Fylde College

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593937 C13, C - Floor, Fylde College

Infancy and Early Development, Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593761

Infancy and Early Development, Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593696 D14, D - Floor, Fylde College

Perception and Action, Security Lancaster, Security Lancaster (Behavioural Science)

+44 (0)1524 593217

Language and Cognition, Perception and Action, Social Processes

+44 (0)1524 594336

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 592633

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 592842

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593831 D36, D - Floor, Fylde College

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593834 D08, D - Floor, Fylde College

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593832

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 594625

Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593163

Infancy and Early Development, Perception and Action

+44 (0)1524 593676

Laboratories

Neuroscience of Speech Laboratory

Dr Helen Nuttall

Research in the laboratory focuses primarily on investigating the neural bases of speech communication. We are interested in studying how normal brains communicate, and also what goes wrong in the brains of people with speech and language impairments.

To study this, we focus on the entire auditory pathway, from the ear to the auditory cortex, and beyond. We look at how auditory areas of the brain interact with other, non-auditory areas of the brain, to help us understand the neurobiological network that subserves speech perception, and how the network adapts depending on the situational context. Some questions that we are currently researching include: How do sensory and motor brain areas interact during speech perception? How do descending auditory projections influence low-level speech perception? How can we use information about the ear and the brain to detect communication difficulties and help to restore them?

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Aberrant Experience, Awareness and Emotion Laboratory

Dr Jason J Braithwaite

Our research examines the neurocognitive correlates underlying disorders in consciousness such as hallucinations, delusions and perceptual distortions. Examples include breakdowns in multisensory integration underpinning the out-of-body experience (OBE) and associated disorders in body-image / perception, dissociative experiences, the aberrant experiences associated with depersonalisation/derealisation, and emotional disorders. These striking experiences are explored in non-clinical populations as well as patient groups. Overarching theoretical accounts currently being explored include theories on the role of cortical hyperexcitability underlying aberrant perceptions, Predictive coding and Disconnection accounts of failures in multisensory integration, and models of interoceptive-awareness underlying the sense of ‘presence’ in self-consciousness.

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Action Observation and Motor Imagery Laboratory

Dr Stefan Vogt

Our research focuses on the interplay between observing, imagining, and performing bodily actions, and we employ both neuroimaging and behavioural methods. For example, we explore the (clearly dissociable) neural substrates of imitation learning of spatial sequences and rhythms. On a theoretical level, we have recently proposed a novel interpretation of previous research on the human mirror neuron system, namely in terms of motor imagery during action observation (Vogt et al., 2013). Supporting evidence for this account comes from a growing number of studies, including behavioural and EEG studies from our group. In addition, we investigate the effects of action observation combined with motor imagery on learning by observing, e.g. learning cheerleading postures and learning guitar chords.

Body Based Perception Laboratory

Dr Sally Linkenauger

We study the influence of the body on space perception in real and virtual environments. We have found evidence that suggests that people use their bodies as perceptual metrics to provide a scale for their visual environments. Additionally, we also study the influence on the distribution of the somatosensory cortex on the visual perception of the body. To manipulate body perception, we use infrared, flexion sensor, and light coding motion tracking systems to provide individuals with virtual bodies that are fully self-animated in real time through head mounted displays.

Embodied Cognition Laboratory

Dr Dermot Lynott
Dr Louise Connell

We are interested in how people's linguistic, bodily and environmental experience shapes their mental representations and how this affects the way they process language and the world around them. Our research includes investigations of the grounded nature of concepts; the ability of language, body and environment to influence cognition and behaviour; and the interplay of linguistic and simulation systems in human cognition. Recent work has examined how modality-specific language (describing what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell) is processed, how perceptual attention during reading interacts with the perceptual basis of concepts, how ambient temperature influences people's prosocial behaviour, how information about space and time is represented, how people combine concepts to create new entities, and how statistical information from language influences our conceptual processing and formation of attitudes.

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Hearing Research Laboratory

Professor Chris Plack

We use a combination of listening tests and EEG measures to investigate how sounds are processed by the auditory brain. We are particularly interested in how neural coding and hearing ability deteriorate with age. We are also interested in the effects of auditory training on the neural coding of musical pitch. Finally, in a collaboration with Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars, we are studying how the different woods used in construction affect the perceived sound quality of acoustic guitars.

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Spatial Memory and Navigation Laboratory

Dr Dina Lew

The main research question we study is how spatial information in an environment is represented, remembered and used for navigation. A focus of current research concerns the characterisation of map-like versus route-following mechanisms in navigation, the underlying brain systems involved in these types of task, and the interactions that occur between different systems. Both behavioural and fMRI measures in human adults are used to study these questions, in collaboration with colleagues at Durham University and the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. We also research navigation in human development.

Sir John Fisher Eye Movement Research Laboratory

Dr Trevor Crawford

Our neuropsychological research is primarily targeted on age-related disorders, in particular, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's disease and Schizophrenia.

A major focus is to improve our understanding of the core cognitive features and developing new biological markers that will help doctors to improve their diagnosis of these disorders. We are working to discover an early cognitive marker of the disease and to track the changes in relation to the severity of the illness. If we are successful this will enable new treatments to be targeted at an early stage in the course of the disease.  We have dedicated research laboratories at Lancaster University and an extensive network of collaborating hospitals and research centres in the north-west and nationally. This research network includes research assistants, clinical psychologists, consultant neurologists, psychiatrists, radiologists and neuropsychologists at Lancaster University and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.

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Visual and Multisensory Cognition Laboratory

Dr Peter Walker

We study cross-sensory correspondences (sometimes referred to as weak synaesthesia) as an aspect of multisensory cognition.  Correspondences are observed in everyday life when we hear people refer to the smoothness and heaviness of a perfume, the brightness, sharpness, and heaviness of a sound, and the warmth and loudness of a colour.  In addition, when asked, people will agree that lemons are fast, that brighter coloured snooker balls make higher pitch sounds than darker snooker balls, and that darker pebbles are heavier than brighter pebbles.  In carefully designed experiments we investigate what these and related phenomena tell us about visual and multisensory cognition. 

Current projects include:

  • Cross-sensory correspondences and language: How correspondences contribute to symbolism in language, including sound symbolism and the visual symbolism mediated by the typefaces in which words appear.
  • The innate and learned (linguistic and non-linguistic) origins of cross-sensory correspondences, including their presence in neonates and infants.
  • The contributions of cross-sensory correspondences to the visual arts and to music, including how professional jazz musicians (saxophonists) exploit correspondences to communicate concepts in their improvisations.
  • The functional significance of cross-sensory correspondences for human-machine interfaces, especially how they might give rise to powerful stimulus-response compatibility effects.

We are also studying directional biases in the perception of lateral visual movement, including their links to language (writing/reading direction) and hand dominance.

Publications

Projects

News

Multi-channel brain stimulator now operational - October 2017

A new wireless multi-channel brain stimulator is up and running in the Department of Psychology. This new system represents the very latest in 21st Century brain stimulation and is capable of multi-channel transcranial direct current stimulation (MtDCS), transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), and random noise stimulation (rNS) protocols. The unit is an 8-channel wireless (StarStim: Neuroelectronics) brain-stimulation unit and is integrated with powerful software that allows easy configuration and monitoring of multifocal brain simulation using advanced electric-field head model approaches. The simultaneous stimulation of multiple brain regions is now possible allowing for network-level investigations of neurocognitive function. These methodologies can support scientific, medical and clinical research, offering sham and double-blind modalities as well as opening up telemedicine approaches using the NUBE Cloud Management Service which may have implication for brain health innovation. Watch this space!

P&A welcomes new lecturer Jess Wang - September 2017

P&A are delighted to announce that they have been joined by Dr Jess Wang. Jess’ main research interest is in perspective-taking and communication. In particular, Jess investigates the cognitive, developmental, social, and cultural factors implicated in the way in which we think about others’ perspectives. Her first research project at Lancaster will examine how cognitive ageing interacts with older communicator’s ability to think about their communicative partner’s perspective. Jess is also interested in Theory of mind and gaze processing. Welcome to the group, Jess! We are excited to have you with us.

Cutting edge face-reading technology - August 2017

The laboratory is now home to the latest in digital FaceReader technologies (with supporting Observer software for analysis: Tracksys) to provide a comprehensive examination of emotional processing – even more so when coupled and integrated with Biopac systems via an event-related configuration. This new initiative enjoys wide application to a host of research questions and is currently supporting research on emotional dysfunction and dissociative experiences. 

EEG and EMG fully incorporated into Neuroscience of Speech lab

Both TMS machines now interface with EMG and EEG electrophysiology devices. A high sampling rate, 2-channel TMS-compatible amplifier (TruTrace, Deymed Diagnostic) is installed for a recording of surface electromyography and Motor Evoked Potentials. A 32-channel TMS-compatible EEG system (TruScan, Deymed Diagnostic) is also in place for the recording of cortical EEG and Event-Related Potentials. The EEG has the classic functionality of receiving external triggers to time-lock ERPs to an external stimulus, but can also trigger the TMS machine for EEG-triggered TMS, a very exciting development in TMS research, which is quickly becoming a hot topic in the field. The EEG device will support Dr Helen Nuttall during her Research Challenge prize from the BrainBox Initiative and will be instrumental in supporting Dr Nuttall’s work on auditory-motor integration during speech perception.

New psychophysiological measuring equipment - April 2017

The Aberrant Experience, Awareness, & Emotion Laboratory is now home to two Biopac MP36R DAQ units for the very latest in event-related psychophysiology.  Due to their 24-bit A/D converters, they are capable of sampling biophysical signals up to 100,000 times-per-second and represent the very latest in biophysical monitoring.  These units have been fully integrated into a multi-platform event-related configuration in the laboratory and are currently supporting research on aberrant emotional processes and anomalous hallucinatory experience.

Neuronavigation arrives at the Neuroscience of Speech lab - March 2017

The Neuroscience of Speech lab now has the latest Brainsight neuronavigation system. This system allows for precise coil placement and tracking during application of TMS, to ensure the accuracy of TMS delivery. The latest version means it can be used with, and without subject-specific MRI using model-based neuronavigation. Targets for stimulation can be identified by manually selecting and highlighting the desired brain structure or location or by combining MRI images with areas of activity highlighted with fMRI, EEG or NIRS. A very exciting tool and excellent for TMS training as well!

State of the art Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) installed - February 2017

A brand new cutting-edge TMS suite has now been installed in Psychology’s Neuroscience of Speech laboratory. The lab will be led by Dr Helen Nuttall, who is happy to train any prospective TMS users. Two TMS machines have been installed, a monophasic MP-Dual made by Deymed Diagnostic, which is capable of single, paired, and double pulse protocols with short inter-pulse intervals, as well as low-frequency repetitive TMS. A DuoMag XT-100 (Deymed Diagnostic) has also been installed, which is capable of delivering biphasic high-frequency, repetitive, or patterned TMS protocols, as well as single-pulse protocols. The devices can be used with a selection of coils, including 50mm and 70mm figure-of-eight coils, ideal for focal application of TMS.

Intuitive colourimetry comes to Psychology at Lancaster - January 2017

The Department of Psychology now has a Cerium Mk III “Intuitive Colorimeter” (and associated lenses) for the assessment and treatment of visual symptoms generally referred to as visual stress.  The colourimeter is used to delineate an optimal tint colour for glasses/contact lenses to relieve the symptoms of visual stress.  It is capable of producing over 100,000 colour combinations, allowing us to determine a precision tint that can provide optimal relief from these symptoms.  Investigations are now underway in the Department of Psychology exploring the beneficial effects of precision tinting across a variety of neurological and clinical conditions including migraine, epilepsy, dissociative disorders, sleeps disorders, depression, and mood disorders.