Master thesis

Cognitive Psychology

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Master thesis

MCP1 - CONSCIOUSNESS AND VISUAL ATTENTION (35 EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. ROB VAN DER LUBBE

Recent studies in our lab suggest that visuospatial attention has a major impact on visual consciousness. By using the EEG, we were able to demonstrate that contralateral reductions in alpha power co-varied with the conscious perception of lateral visual stimuli in a backward masking paradigm. Nevertheless, suboptimal settings like the low number of good EEG recordings and experimental details prevented a fully straightforward conclusion. Goal of the project is to gather new data in a slightly adapted paradigm that will allow clearer conclusions, which may result in a scientific publication.

MCP2 - OPTIMIZING EEG SOURCE MODELING PROCEDURES OF CORTICAL HAND-MOTOR AREAS (35 EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. ROB VAN DER LUBBE

Topographical maps of the primary motor cortex commonly reveal that representations related to the hand motor areas are located approximately halfway the contralateral precentral gyrus. Importantly, this cortical representation may be quite different for patients with cerebral palsy, as different patterns of cortical reorganization have been observed, being either contralateral, ipsilateral or even bilateral. These different types of reorganization have important implications for the development of appropriate training programs, therefore a proper assessment of the type of reorganization seems quite relevant. In a previous study, we attempted to determine the type of cortical reorganization on an individual basis by performing source analyses with the electroencephalogram but results of these analyses were somewhat equivocal. Goal of the project is to improve the previously employed procedures. First, determination of spectral characteristics of hand-motor related activity with wavelet analyses may improve the signal to noise ratio. Secondly, small paradigmatic variations (location vs. symbolic cues) might also improve localization results. Finally, results of different source localization methods may be directly compared, like BESA and LORETA. Goal of the project is to apply the optimized analyzing procedures to a data set of adolescents with unilateral cerebral palsy.

MCP3 - INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL SPATIAL ATTENTIONAL EXAMINED WITH LATERALIZED EEG POWER SPECTRA (35 EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. ROB VAN DER LUBBE

Several authors argued that retrieval of an item from visual short term memory (internal spatial attention) and focusing attention on an externally presented item (external spatial attention) are similar. In a recent EEG study (Van der Lubbe et al., 2014) we presented four-stimulus arrays and observed increased power in the alpha and theta bands at ipsilateral sites above occipital cortex with precues and with postcues appearing 3,000 ms after array offset. These findings indeed support the idea of a common underlying mechanism. Nevertheless, this support may crucially depend on the time interval between the stimulus array and the postcue. In the planned research project we want to examine whether participants shift to a more abstract non-spatial type of representation in the case of longer time intervals. Thus, goal of the project is to determine the boundary conditions for overlapping mechanisms by systematically varying the array-postcue time interval.

MCP4 - MEMORIZING FACES (35 EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. ROB VAN DER LUBBE

Some faces are more easily encoded in our memories than others. Part of this variability may be due to specific features of the face, but fluctuations in the state of our brains will also affect memorability. Measures derived from the EEG, especially power in the alpha and theta band are likely predictors of what will be remembered later on, and what not. An experiment will be performed with a so-called oddball paradigm in which a standard face, target faces, and deviant faces will be presented for 1,000 ms. EEG will be measured during this oddball session. In a second test, participants will be presented with several faces, half of them presented before, half of them new, and participants have to indicate whether they saw the faces before. Acquired EEG data may reveal whether brain states predict memorability of the faces.

MCP5 - MEMORIZING WORDS (35 EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. ROB VAN DER LUBBE

Some words are more easily encoded in our memories than others. Part of this variability may be due to specific features of the words, but fluctuations in the state of our brains will also affect memorability. Measures derived from the EEG, especially power in the alpha and theta band are likely predictors of what will be remembered later on, and what not. An experiment will be performed with a so-called oddball paradigm in which a standard word, target words, and deviant words will be presented for 1,000 ms. EEG will be measured during this oddball session. In a second test, participants will be presented with several words, half of them presented before, half of them new, and participants have to indicate whether they saw the words before. Acquired EEG data may reveal whether brain states predict memorability of the different words.

MCP6 - TOPDOWN CONTROL OF RESPONSE TENDENCIES (35 EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. ROB VAN DER LUBBE

When you are confronted with visual stimuli presented in the LVF or RVF that require left- or right-hand responses the irrelevant side of presenting the stimulus has an influence on response speed. Specifically, responses are faster when stimulus and response side correspond (correspondence trials) than when they do not correspond (noncorrespondence trials): the Simon effect. Recent studies revealed that this presumed to be automatic response tendency, which may be related to attentional orienting (see Van der Lubbe et al.., 2012), can actually be affected by the individual state, and it has even been argued that there are cultural differences, with larger Simon effects in studies of Italian authors than studies of Dutch or German authors. Likely, these differences are due to variations in cognitive control. Goal of the study is to examine the influence of cognitive control by providing cues with regard to the likely type of trial (correspondence or noncorrespondence) and examine whether this manipulation affects the Simon effect. By examining EEG after the cues, we may examine what brain areas are playing an important role in exerting control.

MCP7 - CONCEPTUAL LEARNING (25 OR 35EC)

SUPERVISOR: PROF.DR. FRANK VAN DER VELDE

Abstract

Concepts and their relations play a crucial role in human cognition. In particular, they are the building blocks of our semantic cognition, with which we understanding our environment. Concepts can vary from concrete, as given by the concept "dog", to abstract, such as the concept "honesty". Learning concepts can be based on learning perceptual classifications, such as learning the concept "dog" from classifying individual dogs, or by classifying or recognizing actions as performed by certain agents. But concepts can also be learned by combining other concepts and their relations. So, the concept "animal" could be learned from understanding the similarities between concepts such as "dogs" and "cats" and their differences with other concepts like "chair" or "house". In this way, we also learn relations between concepts, for example that a dog is an animal, but not every animal is a dog. Because concepts (such as actions) are typically learned in (certain) relations to each other, a 'conceptual space' (or knowledge base) can arise, which forms the basis for our semantic cognition.  

How we learn concepts and conceptual spaces, and how they are represented in the brain, is a topic of very active research. Learning of concepts and relations is also an important theme in machine learning. The key issue in this project concerns the way in which concepts and their relations in a given domain are learned and how they are combined to form a conceptual space. The domain can be chosen one, such as the "sport domain" (with concepts like "player" or "game") or the "health domain" (with concepts like "virus" or "medicine"). Or it could be designed for the project to study how humans learn such a new domain. The chosen topic can be studied with experimental techniques such as card sorting or priming studies. Or the conceptual space in a chosen domain could be designed (e.g., for use in machines) and evaluated by humans, for example by using questionnaires. Aspects of concept learning and conceptual spaces can also be modeled with computer modeling, such as Deep Learning or other techniques. 

This is a general topic that can be specified into a 25EC or a 35EC thesis project.

Literature:

Rouder, Jeffrey; Ratcliff, Roger (2006). "Comparing Exemplar and Rule-Based Theories of Categorization". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 15: 9–13. doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2006.00397.x. 

Lambon-Ralph, M. A., Jefferies, E., Patterson, K. and Timothy T. Rogers, T. T. (2017). The neural and computational bases of semantic cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 18, 42–55. doi:10.1038/nrn.2016.150

MCP8 - EFFICIENT MIND READING WITH THE SEMANTIC PRIMING STROOP TASK (25 OR 35EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR. MARTIN SCHMETTOW

This is a project for a team of two students who work together in setting up the study and gathering data. It is expected that the combined work covers both scenarios mentioned below.

Background

Mind reading refers to getting a grasp on what someone is currently thinking of, without asking the person directly.

Opposed to some common belief[1], psychologists are well able to read people’s minds. The key to mind reading is to use so-called implicit techniques (Robinson & Neighbors, 2005), in contrast to the prevalent self-report methods. The variety of implicit methods falls into two classes. In free association tasks (e.g., Schmettow & Keil, 2013), the response is free form (such as telling a brief story after viewing a picture), which is then interpreted by the researcher using some detailed scoring rules. In experimental tasks, direction of thought is usually inferred from differences in response times.

A rather novel paradigm to mind reading is a variant of the well-known Stroop task. The semantic priming Stroop task implicitly assesses the strength of association between a picture and a word. Participants first view a picture, followed by a word that is written in color. As usual in the Stroop task, the participant has to respond to the color as quick as possible. When the participant has a strong association between picture and word, this leads to a distraction from the color naming task and can be measured as a delay in response time. By using words out of several categories, one can determine the broad direction of thought, the participant experienced.

To give an example: Suppose you want to find out whether someone knows the fairytale of “Red Riding Hood”. You would prepare a set of pictures that cover the themes of the fairytale, for example showing an old lady, a wolf or a basket with food. Another set of pictures is not associated to the fairytale, serving as a control condition. In the same way two sets of target words are created. During the experiment picture-word pairs are presented in two conditions: either both are associated through the fairytale (e.g., picture of a wolf, followed by the word grandma), or they are completely unassociated (e.g., picture of car followed by grandma). When the response time for associated pairs are delayed, you would conclude that the person knows the fairytale.

The Stroop semantic priming task has been used before to assess attitudes towards computers (Schmettow, Noordzij, & Mundt, 2013; Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011). While the experiment itself is unlikely suitable as a measure of attitude, it can well be used for cross validation of questionnaires which are co commonly used in Human Factors research.

Research question

The classic Stroop task is a well-established experimental paradigm in cognitive psychology and the Stroop effect has been replicated dozens, if not hundreds, of time. In contrast, the semantic priming variant has only been used twice to our knowledge, making it susceptible. In this thesis project, the promises are assessed in one of two possible scenarios:

  1. Best case scenario: does the task produce the expected results when the expected associations are very strong, for example knowledge of fairy tales.
  2. Replication scenario: can the pioneering results of Sparrow et al., 2011 be replicated?

Activities

In your thesis project you will:

  1. Do a literature study covering experimental priming paradigms and the Stroop task
  2. Create a scenario with stimuli set (words and pictures, for example, fairytales and novels)
  3. Program the experiment (OpenSesame, PsychoPy or PyGame)
  4. Run the experiment to test your hypothesis
  5. Conclude on whether the semantic priming Stroop task works and how it can be used in Human Factors research

References

Robinson, M. D., & Neighbors, C. (2005). Catching the mind in action: Implicit methods in personality research and assessment. In M. Eid & E. Diener (Eds.), Handbook of multimethod measurement in psychology (Vol. 7, pp. 115–125). Washington, DC, US: APA American Psychological Association.

Schmettow, M., & Keil, J. (2013). Development of an Implicit Picture Story Exercise Measuring Personal Motives for the Interaction with Technical Products. University of Twente.

Schmettow, M., Noordzij, M. L., & Mundt, M. (2013). An implicit test of UX: Individuals Differ in What They Associate with Computers. In CHI ’13 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems on - CHI EA ’13 (pp. 2039–2048). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. http://doi.org/10.1145/2468356.2468722

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google effects on memory: cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science (New York, N.Y.), 333(6043), 776–8. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1207745

[1] http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Can_a_psychologists_read_a_people_mind?#slide=2

MCP9 - NEURAL CORRELATES OF VISUALLY INDUCED SELF‐MOTION (VECTION) (35EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR.PROF.ING. WILLEM VERWEY

In collaboration with Max-Planck-Institut für Biologische Kybernetik (Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics)

Vection refers to a visually induced sense of self-motion in a stationary observer, elicited by motion of the visual surround. The train illusion is a very well-known example of vection: seeing the train at the neighboring platform leave the station, gives the feeling that your own train is moving. This visual motion illusion is exploited in many motion simulations and virtual reality applications. Traditionally, the occurrence of vection is indicated using subjective ratings. In this project we want to investigate neural correlates of vection, which can be used as an objective measure for vection. To do this, we use Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), a brain imaging technique that visualizes the blood flow in the surface of the brain. We will perform an experiment in the MPI Panolab, where we can induce a compelling illusion of self-motion, and measure the NIRS response under various experimental conditions. If you are interested in brain imaging, keen to search for patterns in the recorded data, and would like to do an experiment involving human participants, please write to Dr. Suzanne Nooij of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. Programming experience with Matlab / Simulink is advantageous.

Contact:
Dr. Suzanne Nooij
Motion perception and Simulation research group
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tuebingen, Germany
Email: suzanne.nooij@tuebingen.mpg.de

MCP10 - MOTION PERCEPTION IN AIRPLANES (35EC)

SUPERVISOR: DR.PROF.ING.WILLEM VERWEY

In collaboration with Max-Planck-Institut für Biologische Kybernetik (Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics)

Accurate perception of aircraft orientation is crucial for aircraft control. In most aircrafts the pilot is seated in front of the center of rotation, so, any rotation of the aircraft in the pitch plane (i.e., nose up) is also accompanied by a vertical motion (Fig. 1). The further away from the center, the larger the vertical motion. In this project we investigate whether this additional vertical motion affects the perception of orientation. In other words: does the vertical component help or hamper the perception of aircraft orientation? And is prior knowledge about the aircraft kinematics required?

Fig 1: The further away from the center of rotation, the more vertical displacement occurs during a nose up movement

Fig 2: The MPI CyberMotion Simulator

To answer these questions, we will perform an experiment in the MPI CyberMotionSimulator (Fig 2), where we expose participants to various combinations of rotation (i.e., pitch) and translation (i.e., heave). We use psychophysical methods to measure the perceived motion, which means that in every trial two motions are compared and the participant has to judge which one was more “nose-up”. This will tell us whether the vertical motion improves or deteriorates the perception of aircraft orientation. Are you interested in motion perception and psychophysics, and do you want to perform an experiment on human participants using a motion simulator? Then this project might be suitable for you. Programming experience with Matlab/Simulink is advantageous.

Contact:
Dr. Suzanne Nooij
Motion perception and Simulation research group
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tuebingen, Germany
Email: suzanne.nooij@tuebingen.mpg.de