Perception, Action, Cognition (PSYL10152)

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Perception, Action, Cognition (PSYL10152)

Semester 2, Monday 2:10pm-4:00pm

BPS core areas - Biological Psychology, Cognitive Psychology


What will be covered?

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. 

How will it be delivered?

Each week there will be two main lecture periods, with breaks for reflection and discussion. There will usually be a student-led section in the middle, in which class members will present empirical studies, neuropsychological cases, or interactive demonstrations.

In-class discussion is built into the lectures, allowing students to check their understanding, and to discuss ideas more broadly with one another. There are also student-led sections, which are beneficial for those who choose to present, and help to provide variety and interest for the whole class. Presenting students will receive formative discussion of their plans, to aid in the delivery of the material.

Lecture recording policy: Lectures will not be recorded. 

What skills will be gained?

Throughout the course, students will gain practice in interpreting primary literature, and the assessment will focus on the core skills of summarising empirical work and evaluating experimental results with respect to larger theoretical frameworks.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Students should have a knowledgeable appreciation of the relevance of motor control to studying perception and cognition.

2. Students should be able to give an evidence-based account of the dual-streams model of human vision.

3. Students should understand how sensory and non-sensory information is used to represent the body in relation to external space.

4. Students should be able to give an evidence-based discussion of how we feel ownership of our bodies and authorship of our actions.

5. 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.


30% Mid-term Short Essay (submission deadline Monday 24th February, 12.00 noon)

1000 word essay, selected from 4-5 alternatives, including the option for students to define their own question, by discussion with the course organiser.

The mid-term essay will be given detailed feedback, on writing, structure, and scientific style, to give a good idea of the standards expected for the longer, final essay, which will receive less detailed feedback. This 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.

70% Final Discursive Essay (submission deadline Thursday 9th April, 12.00 noon)

3000 word essay, selected from 4-5 alternatives, including the option for students to define their own question, by discussion with the course organiser.

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.

Reading resources

This is a new course, so the lecture titles and materials are indicative, not final, and may change.

Indicative reading: 

Goodale MA & Milner AD. (2004, second edition 2013) Sight unseen. Oxford University Press.

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

Resources list:

Lecture 1

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

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

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 Biology5(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.

Lectures 4 and 5

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).

Lectures 6 and 7

  • Knoblich et al., (Eds). 2006. Human body perception from inside out. Oxford University Press. Chapters 3 & 4.
  • Holmes & Spence, 2004. The body schema and the multisensory representation(s) of peripersonal space. Cognitive processing, 5(2), 94–105.

Lecture 8

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

  • Haggard, P. (2017). Sense of agency in the human brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience18(4), 196.

Lecture 9

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

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.


28/08/2019 - 9:25am