My name is Yifan (Catherine) Yang. I am a second-year student in MSPS program, where I am a member of Dr. Daniel Simons’ lab. My research with Dr. Simons focuses on attention and visual perception.
My interest in attention began during my undergraduate study at Whitman College. After taking Introduction to Psychology and learning about change blindness, I wondered why people cannot detect salient changes that happen right in front of them. For example, in the famous “door” study, a researcher approaches a pedestrian and asks for directions. Then, two people holding a large wooden door pass between them, and one of them swaps places with the first experimenter. Many of the pedestrians were entirely unaware that they were talking to a different person. My undergraduate thesis studied this phenomenon by testing whether some categories of objects attract more attention than others. Specifically, I examined if changes to schema-inconsistent objects and animate objects (e.g. animals) are more readily detected than changes to schema-consistent objects and inanimate objects in a change detection task.
I enrolled in the MSPS program at UIUC to continue researching attention and to further develop research skills. Dr. Simons and I first designed a study to investigate if people only notice unexpected objects when they first appear. There were two questions we aimed to answer: 1. Do people who notice the unexpected object just happen to be looking at the onset location when it appears? 2. Do people who were not looking the onset location notice at a lower rate, even if they later look at the unexpected object? We planned to use an eye-tracking device to monitor participants’ eye movements and fixations. Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented us from inviting participants into the laboratory, and we have had to suspend data collection until we can guarantee the safety of our participants.
Fortunately, the pandemic did not impede the progress of my research entirely. Dr. Simons and I designed a new study on change detection. We aim to evaluate the effect of presentation format¾sequential vs. simultaneous—on similarity judgments for pairs of images that vary in their change magnitude. I programmed the study in Python and wrote R code to analyze simulated data. We are writing a registered report that we will submit for review. Additionally, we plan to move the research online so that we can begin data collection.
In the MSPS program, I have pursued my training goals despite the challenges created by the pandemic. Although I cannot yet analyze the eye-tracking data from our suspended project, I have joined a collaboration with Dr. Simons, Dr. Troiani, Dr. DiCriscio, and Dr. Chabris to analyze some existing eye gaze data from an inattentional blindness task. We will compare adults who noticed an unexpected object to those who did not. I am writing the R code to analyze the eye gaze data.
Conducting research during the pandemic is not optimal, but this experience has taught me how to proceed with research when faced with obstacles. I am now more certain that I can handle difficulties that may occur as I continue to explore attention and perception.