Think101x: The Science of Everyday Thinking

Want to learn more about illusions and how our experience affects what we see? Registration for “Think101”, a free online course on the science of everyday thinking, is now open. The course is offered through edX, the not-for-profit massive open online course (MOOC) provider founded by Harvard and MIT. Register here.



Flashed Face Distortion Effect – Pretty girls turn ugly

Like many interesting scientific discoveries, this one was an accident. Sean Murphy, an undergraduate student, was working alone in the lab on a set of faces for one of his experiments. He aligned a set of faces at the eyes and started to skim through them. After a few seconds, he noticed that some of the faces began to appear highly deformed and grotesque. He looked at the especially ugly faces individually, but each of them appeared normal or even attractive. We called it the “Flashed Face Distortion Effect” and wanted to share it with the world, so we put it on YouTube.

The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others. By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous. We’re conducting several experiments right now to figure out exactly what’s causing this effect, so watch this space!

[Nature News] [New Scientist TV]



Tangen, J. M., Murphy, S. C., & Thompson, M. B. (2011). Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces. Perception, 40, 628-630 doi:10.1068/p6968 [Abstract] [Blog Post] [Movie] [PDF]

Attribution: Dr Jason Tangen, Mr Sean Murphy, Mr Matthew Thompson. The University of Queensland

Identifying Fingerprint Expertise

Fingerprint identification has been a crucial source of evidence in court for over 100 years. The misidentification of crime-scene fingerprints is potentially devastating — innocent people could be wrongly convicted, and guilty people could be wrongly acquitted — and serious cases of misidentification have occurred. Although the current identification process primarily involves human perception and judgement, very little psychological research has been conducted on these processes. See The Forensic Reasoning Project and Media Release. I investigate the perceptual and cognitive processes underlying identification of complex visual stimuli such as fingerprints. My research will provide tools, techniques and training methods to aid professionals in correctly identifying forensic evidence.