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Frank Durgin

Elizabeth and Sumner Hayward Professor of Psychology

Psychology, Cognitive Science and Neuroscience


  2. Phone: (610) 328-8678
  3. Office: Whittier Hall 212
  4. Lab: Whittier Hall 202

Research Interests

Human perceptual and cognitive systems show remarkable properties of attunement and calibration to their environment. My doctoral work on simple and contingent aftereffects in the perception of visual texture grew out of a fascination with evidence that the visual system develops coding strategies that optimize information flow and thereby supports action. Perception is a tool, not a product.

Information integration problems got me interested in the perception of surface orientation and depth, where multiple sources of potentially useful information get combined in highly optimized ways. In collaboration with Alen Hajnal and Zhi Li I am proposing a new ways of understanding the perception of surfaces in the locomotor environment.

Recently we developed similar ideas for understanding self-motion perception where recalibration processes between vision and action support the highly calibrated activity of walking.

The Swarthmore Visual Perception Lab has a large-area virtual reality system where we study how various sources of information regarding self-motion and surface layout are calibrated, integrated and inter-calibrated. There is a complex interaction between coding in vision and action because perception can be tuned to the contexts of action -- as evidenced by shifts in the perception of visual speed during walking.

My cognitive work is more diverse. Much of it focuses on how cognitive coding schemes interact with action systems including visual search. What makes information flow efficient and what makes it fail? How do we set up our cognitive systems to optimize the flow of information to planning and action systems that need it?

We have done work on the interaction of verbal information and non-verbal conceptual information, including the reverse Stroop effect, where we are currently examining eye-movements to understand the flow of information in verbally-guided visual search.

With Paul Thibodeau, we are also working on understanding real-time metaphor comprehension, where we propose that common metaphors provide communicative efficiency by activating conceptual chunks that help to triangulate meaning.


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