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Personal Perception (PEPE)
Start date: Apr 1, 2013, End date: Jan 31, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The project aims to open-up a new research field concerned with how human visual perception operates in a social context, and involves an innovative link between cognitive and social psychology. In particular, the project assesses how personal social interests permeate the functional and neural processes supporting human visual perception. The proposal is built around emerging findings from my laboratory showing that it is possible to experimentally ‘tag’ stimuli with personal-related (e.g., self-linked) associations, which enhance subsequent stimulus processing. The tagged stimuli can then be used to probe specific functional stages and brain mechanisms mediating visual perception, taking us beyond the view of perception as a purely bottom-up module to a new view of perception as tuned to personal self-interest.The project will provide a coherent programme of research using inter-disciplinary and state-of-the-art methods to assess (i) which functional processes in perception are affected by self-related biases, (ii) whether the effects occur automatically and even prior to the engagement of visual attention; (iii) the neural substrates of these effects (the neural localization, connectivity and necessary role of different brain regions); (iv) how self-prioritization is modulated by culture, (v) the developmental trajectory of self-prioritization in perception (when does self-prioritized perception occur in children? are the critical factors the same as in adults? does self-prioritization in perception increase in older adults?) and (vi) what factors determine the effects (what are the causal drivers of self-prioritized perception? reward? shared values? empathy?). By marrying together research from perceptual and social psychology, the project will offer a new over-arching framework for conceptualising human perception in a social context, enabling us to understand for the first time how social salience can modulate the perceptual salience of stimuli.

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