Welcome to Psychology

From childhood to old age.

Psychology at Heriot-Watt focuses on providing
excellent learning experience combined with strong
and active research culture

Perception of visual texture

Almost all natural and artificial surfaces are textured in some way, but little is known about the processing of texture patterns by the human visual system. We collaborate with computer scientists in the Heriot-Watt Texture Lab to explore how people make perceptual judgements about natural and synthetic visual textures, and how people search for targets in visual textures. Results are applied to problems in computer vision such as retrieving digital representations of surface textures from databases and detecting surface deficits. 

Attentional biases and handedness

Why are most human right-handed? Do manual asymmetries reflect the inherent capabilities of each brain hemisphere? Do humans learn their handedness, or are they born with the asymmetry? In the Motor Control Lab, we are examining the degree to which right and left handedness may be a product of biases in our visual and motor attention during tasks which involve the concurrent use of both hands (bimanual coordination). These findings will not only answer fundamental questions about human brain and behaviour, but will also have design implications for the way in which humans can most efficiently interact with their environment. Contact Dr Anna Sedda for more information.

Active perception and sensorimotor control

When we experience an illusion, our perception of the world around us is fooled, and this gives us important insights into how we interpret information from our senses. In the classic 'Size Weight Illusion', the smaller of two equally weighted boxes feels substantially heavier than a larger counterpart (try it yourself, with 2 different-sized 10lb weights at the gym). However, your gripping and lifting forces are never fooled by the illusion – perception of heaviness appears to be isolated from your actions. In the Motor Control lab, we are attempting to determine how different stimulus properties (size, material, multimodal combinations that are either consistent or in opposition to one another) trigger our expectations to influence our perception of the world and the way in which we act upon it. Contact Dr Anna Sedda for more information.

Perception-action relationships and everyday functional ability with older age

Do our perceptions of our abilities change alongside age-related changes in our physical or cognitive functioning? What factors influence whether we will underestimate our capabilities (putting us at risk of loss of participation and the accompanying downward spiral of secondary effects) or overestimate (putting us at risk of injury)? We seek to find answers to these questions then apply them to strengthening perception-action couplings throughout older age. We are also interested in how perception of 'usability' of everyday objects and environments (influenced by visual object properties, such as slipperiness) changes with age to influence the items we use, the activities we engage in, and hence our functional ability and independence. We aim to use findings in this area to inform the design of everyday objects and environments so that everyone can use them, including older people ('inclusive' design). For more information contact Dr Lauren Potter.

Attention, distraction and safe driving

To drive a vehicle safely, a driver must be able to pick up quickly and efficiently the information from inside and outside the vehicle that they need to control it accurately. Often, this has to be done while being distracted by other information, such as roadside signs, devices such as radios or mobile phones inside the vehicle, or conversations with passengers. Research in the Cognitive Ergonomics Lab analyses distractions of these kinds from the theoretical perspectives of operator workload, task autonomy and task conflict, and applies the results to recommendations for the safe design of vehicle technology, and to advice and training for road safety. Contact Dr Terry Lansdown for more information.