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Mechanisms of conscious and unconscious perception 

David Carmel, Victoria University of Wellington

Understanding consciousness is among the greatest challenges facing science. A promising approach to gaining insight into how our subjective experience of the world arises is to discern the mechanisms that generate perceptual awareness. What determines the contents of our consciousness? And can meaningful perceptual processing occur for sensory stimuli that do not reach awareness? In this talk I will describe recent work that used interocular rivalry and suppression to address these related issues. The first part of the talk will focus on psychophysiological and behavioural studies demonstrating what the visual system can do without awareness (e.g., flexible affective processing) and what it cannot (complex linguistic processing). The second part will go into an ongoing series of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) studies establishing the importance and specific roles of non-visual, high-level regions of parietal cortex in selecting sensory stimuli for conscious representation.

David Carmel is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington, which he joined this year. He got his PhD from University College London in 2007; this was followed by an International Brain Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Centre for Neural Science, New York University, and from 2012 to 2018 he was a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in the UK. His research focuses on the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness – how neural activity creates it, which functions require it (and which don't), and why we have it at all. To answer these questions, he studies perceptual awareness, examining what distinguishes conscious and unconscious visual experience, and how awareness interacts with faculties like attention and emotion.

Signs, Lines, & Wines

Samuel G. Charlton, University of Waikato

In this presentation I will describe studies from our laboratory that demonstrate how findings from cognitive psychology research can be translated into tangible changes to our everyday lives, in this case the trips we take by automobile. For example, our research into attention and speed choice has identified which parts of the road environment drivers notice, and the parts they don’t. We can use this information to design hazard warning signs that work without drivers consciously noticing them, and provide road markings that make it easier to drive at the correct speed. Our research on alcohol and driving has shown that the amount of alcohol consumed is only one aspect of how alcohol affects our performance, and that drivers’ self-awareness of their own state of intoxication and performance is extremely poor.

Samuel has over 30 years’ experience of research work in applied cognitive psychology. Among other things, Samuel is interested in driving as skilled behaviour, and how it can inform theory development in attention, decision-making, and automaticity of performance. Samuel is internationally recognised as a leader in the areas of driving simulation and driver behaviour research and is Editor in Chief of the Elsevier journal Traffic Psychology and Behaviour. His work has been recognised with a range of awards including a Research Excellence Award from the Automobile Association and a 3M Traffic Safety Innovation Award.