Perception, Action, Cognition (PSYL10152)

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Perception, Action, Cognition (PSYL10152)

The course begins by tracing relevant theoretical perspectives, from a contrast between constructivist and ecological approaches to perception, to contemporary notions of enactive perception and embodied cognition. It will be argued that constructivist and ecological approaches have to some extent been combined in a ‘dual streams’ model of human vision, which emphasises that visual information is processed in different brain areas, in different ways, for different purposes. Evidence for this model will be considered, from neuropsychological symptoms arising from brain damage, functional brain imaging, and behavioural experiments requiring people to interact with visual illusions. We will then focus on the action side of this model, considering the requirements for effective action guidance, and sketching some basic control principles. Feed-forward and feedback control will be discussed, as a prelude to the concepts of inverse and forward modelling. We will then consider in more detail how we represent our bodies and the external world in relation to one another, in order to make purposeful action possible. We will draw distinctions between space occupied by the body, immediately around the body, within reaching distance, and beyond. We will refine our discussion of body representation with the concept of a body schema, and consider how the body schema relates to our feeling of ownership of our bodies. Finally, we will return to the idea of forward modelling, and consider whether this control principle can help explain how it is that we feel that like active agents in the world, rather than passive spectators on our own actions. Throughout the course, students will gain practice in interpreting primary literature, and the assessment will focus on core skills of summarising empirical work, and evaluating experimental results with respect to larger theoretical frameworks.


Lecture Information
This is a new course, so the lecture titles and materials are indicative, not final, and may change.
Lecture 1: Perception, action, cognition

Historical overview of direct (ecological) and indirect (constructivist) approaches to perception, and the rise of ‘embodied’ and ‘enactive’ perception.

Background reading:

It would be good to acquaint yourself with some broad-brush outlines of the main theoretical approaches discussed; for instance, the entries on ‘direct perception’, ‘ecological approach’, ‘embodied perception’, and ‘indirect nature of perception’, in:

Goldstein, E. B. (Ed.). (2010). Encyclopedia of perception (Vol. 1). Sage.

Lecture 2: Vision for perception and action

Milner & Goodale’s influential dual-streams model of human visual processing, and supporting neuropsychological evidence.

Background reading:

An accessible overview of the dual-stream model is given in the 'popular science' book:

Goodale MA & Milner AD. (2004, second edition 2013) Sight unseen. Oxford University Press. Chapters 1-4 are especially relevant to this lecture, but read any chapter(s) that take your interest.

And, for a thorough academic introduction to their evolutionarily-inspired approach to vision (covered in Chapter 4 above), see the first chapter of their classic 1995 book, or its 2006 second edition:

Milner AD & Goodale MA (1996, 2006). The visual brain in action. Oxford University Press. Chapter 1.

Lecture 3: Illusions in action

A long-standing, and heated, debate surrounds what we can learn from how people interact with physical displays containing visual illusions. We focus on this topic not just for its relevance to the relationship between perception and action, but because it provides an excellent example of how scientific debates emerge and evolve, and may even eventually be resolved.

Background reading:

You should read the paper that started it all:

Aglioti, S., DeSouza, J. F., & Goodale, M. A. (1995). Size-contrast illusions deceive the eye but not the hand. Current Biology, 5(6), 679-685.

And, if you’re curious to look ahead to where we ended up (so far):

Kopiske, K. K., Bruno, N., Hesse, C., Schenk, T., & Franz, V. H. (2016). The functional subdivision of the visual brain: Is there a real illusion effect on action? A multi-lab replication study. Cortex, 79, 130-152.

Lecture 4: Getting there from here

How do we actually do stuff, and what do we need to know to do it? This lecture provides an introduction to body representation, and the control of action.

Background reading:

A good basic introduction to the key concepts of goal-directed action, and control principles, is provided by Chapter 1 of James Tresilian’s textbook. Chapter 3 (especially Sections 3.3 and 3.4) of the same book gives a similar grounding in the sensorimotor foundations of body representation. These sources provide a good basis for Lectures 4 and 5.

Tresilian, J. R. (2012). Sensorimotor control and learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Chapter 1: Behavior and control. Chapters 1 and 3 (3.3, 3.4).

Lecture 5: Feedback, forward and inverse models

Now it starts to get a bit complicated, but luckily there is an extra week’s break before Lecture 6.

Background reading:

See Lecture 4.

Lecture 6: The body in the brain

Following on from the topics in Lecture 4, we consider the ‘body schema’, as a multisensory, action-oriented representation.

Background reading:

A good source of relevance to this lecture and the next is:

Knoblich et al., (Eds). 2006. Human body perception from inside out. Oxford University Press. Chapters 3 & 4.

Another useful review source is here:

Holmes & Spence, 2004. The body schema and the multisensory representation(s) of peripersonal space. Cognitive processing, 5(2), 94–105.

Lecture 7: The body in space

How do we represent external space, in relation to ourselves, in order to interact with the world.

Background reading:

See Lecture 6.

Lecture 8: Action, awareness and agency

How do we perceive our actions, and what determines our sense of agency in the world.

Background reading:

This review article touches on a number of themes we will consider:

Haggard, P. (2017). Sense of agency in the human brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18(4), 196.

Lecture 9: Abnormalities in the awareness of action

Can the models that we have considered help us to understand pathologies of action awareness and body-representation.

Background reading:

The main discussion in this lecture is based around the following paper:

Blakemore, S. J., Wolpert, D. M., & Frith, C. D. (2002). Abnormalities in the awareness of action. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6(6), 237-242.

Lecture 10: Prediction, action, cognition

The final lecture will discuss contemporary ideas, emerging from a predictive coding framework, that suggest an even more intimate relationship between perception and action.

Background reading:

No background reading is required for this lecture. But, if you are feeling brave, and want a challenging but invigorating philosophically-oriented overview of some of the ideas covered, then you could read Chapters 1 and 5 of Andy Clark’s latest book. Chapter 5 discusses prediction and action, using many of the concepts encountered in this course. Chapter 1 may be necessary general background for reading Chapter 5.

Clark, A. (2016). Surfing uncertainty: Prediction, action, and the embodied mind. Oxford University Press.

Learning Outcomes: 


 Students should have a knowledgeable appreciation of the relevance of motor control to studying perception and cognition.
 Students should be able to give an evidence-based account of the dual-streams model of human vision.
 Students should understand how sensory and non-sensory information is used to represent the body in relation to external space.
 Students should be able to give an evidence-based discussion of how we feel ownership of our bodies, and authorship of our actions.
 Students should be adept at summarising empirical literature, with appropriate methodological detail and key results, and critically evaluating how well the conclusions follow from the data.


Additional Information: 


Detailed Assessment Information - 

Formative Feedback Event (Nature and Timing)

Regular in-class discussion periods will be built into the lecture sessions, allowing students to check their understanding of the material with one another and to discuss ideas more broadly with the lecturer, as well as clarifying specific points. The lecturer will circulate during these sessions, and will lead a short group discussion afterwards, so that the whole class can benefit from one another’s comments and questions. This structure also helps to break up the lecture-based content, to maintain variety and interest.

The mid-term short discursive essay is summative (30% of total mark), but it will also be given detailed feedback, on writing, structure, scientific style, and any other points of relevance, so that the students have a good idea what standards are expected for the longer, final essay (70% of total mark). The final essay will receive less detailed feedback The assessment structure, which assesses the same sets of skills twice, allows for direct practice, and for transfer of mid-term feedback to the final assessment.

Elements Of Summative Assessment (With Weightings) - 

Mid-term discursive short essay, 1000 words (30%)

Final discursive essay, 3000 words (70%)

Relationship Between Assessment and Learning Outcomes - 

LO1 is embedded in all of the assessments; more specific aspects of course material (L02-L05) are targeted by specific essay questions