Top-down control over visual representations

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Experimental Psychology


In the past, the brain was considered as a passive receiver of sensory information. In recent
years, it has become increasingly clear that the brain is much more dynamic and adaptive in
that it can use prior knowledge as well as incoming sensory information to make sense of the complex world. In many instances we take this top-down modulation for granted, only when our perceptual system falls short we start to notice these profound effects. For example, some may categorise a small object in the sky as a bird while others see a plane, or, a magician might succeed in switching two objects without you noticing by cleverly misguiding your attention to a different location. Top-down control on sensory input is critical and impairments in top-down signalling are thought to be characteristic for mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.
The view of the brain as a predictive organ that actively shapes perception in line with our
current goals and prior knowledge has received considerable support. However, much remains unclear about how top-down feedback influences regulate sensory representations. Here, the aim is to conduct a series of experiments that advance our understanding of how sensory representations interact with selective attention and prior knowledge to construct our mental picture of the external world.
Using state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques and analyses this project will gain deeper
understanding of the way we perceive the world around us. More specifically, my proposed
research aims to test how prior knowledge about scenes and objects shapes our perception, and explore the limitations of visual perception. Having a solid background in psychological
research and neuroimaging techniques I am confident this programme in Oxford would be a
good fit for me.
Relevance of proposed DPhil project
The predominant role of vision in our daily lives ensures impairments or disorders related to
our visual system have detrimental effects on our wellbeing. This research provides theoretical insights extending on the recent view of the brain as a predictive organ. The studies are on the cutting edge of the field because it builds on the most recent developments and techniques.
With the available resources and world-leading experts in this subfield of cognitive
neuroscience there would be no place better suitable for this research as Oxford.
The findings of the proposed project will be relevant for psychologists, neuroscientists,
clinical researchers, and can aid the field of artificial intelligence too. Currently, understanding of neural processing and general principles for the brain is limited and we still lack effective treatments for disorders that involve sensory systems. Studying higher level processing in the visual system is a good way to increase this understanding. By extending our knowledge about how the brain processes sensory information we make an important step in our understanding of the principles governing one of the most complex systems in the universe.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/R501037/1 01/10/2017 31/03/2021
1925336 Studentship ES/R501037/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2020 Jasper Hajonides Van Der Meulen