“The influence of knowledge and comprehension on everyday event perception”
Hosted by the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences
Abstract: Despite limitations of the visual system, we tend to have a unified sense of “what is happening in the here and now”. This subjective experience arises, in part, because our minds develop and maintain a mental model of the world that is used to generate predictions for the near future. We know from prior work that we generally perceive, comprehend, and remember the aspects of an event that we attend to. However, in separate, but related, lines of research, I have demonstrated that our event models can also affect what we attend to, perceive, and later remember. In one series of experiments, my colleagues and I investigated how predictions, informed from one’s event model, for upcoming scenes facilitates scene recognition. I have found that predictions made prior to viewing a scene (e.g., expecting a scene of a hallway after viewing multiple views of an office) influences how predictable scenes are perceived (Smith & Loschky, 2020; Smith & Loschky, in prep). This project bridges related topics of research from event cognition and scene perception literatures, and it suggests that the event model reduces identification costs. In an independent series of experiments, I am working on a project investigating how older adults may be able to offset cognitive decline by relying upon the knowledge they have acquired through a lifetime of experience. Specifically, we investigated how prior knowledge can influence how older and young adults understand and preferentially attend to events within videos of everyday activities. We have found evidence to suggest that prior knowledge for the actions of an activity can influence how well actions are attended to, segmented, and later remembered (Pitts, Smith, Newberry, & Bailey, submitted; Smith, Loschky, & Bailey, submitted; Smith, Newberry & Bailey, 2020). This work provides further evidence that the contents of the event model influences how everyday events are encoded. My overarching goals as a cognitive scientist are to explain 1) how we are able to identify information in our environment, connect it to previous experience, and use it to construct a mental model, and 2) how we use that mental model to generate predictions, orient attention, and facilitate perceptual identification, which gives rise to our unified sense of what is happening in the here and now.
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