I originally studied and obtained my Diploma in geography. During an internship about digital signal processing in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto I got to love the methods and the topics of psychology. It was then that I decided to do my Master's and Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Toronto.
In my research I follow my passion of understanding human social behavior. I am currently leading with Tobias Meilinger the Social and Spatial Cognition Group in the Department of Perception, Cognition, and Action at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany.
You can also frequently find me working on developing software. My aim is to help the researcher community by providing reliable software tools that make research more efficient. I developed with the support of the Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics banto. banto is a web based system for room booking and participant recruitment which is by-and-large free of charge for the academic scientific community.
Overall, I explore and establish relations between humans and information technology. Because I believe that the use of technology on humans should be well considered, I find research questions regarding data security and ethics very exciting.
I think it is fair to say that most of the behavioral research has ultimate goal to understand and explain everyday human behavior. However, most of the experimental conditions, under which human behavior is assessed, have little resemblance with everyday life. While there is good reason for that (in fact it warrants statistical and logical inferences from the data) the question remains how one can close this gap between lab and real life.
Here I bridge the gap between lab and real real by using virtual, augmented and mixed realities. These technologies allow the creation of complex stimuli that allow participants to behave naturally in the experimental environment. At the same time these technologies give the degree of control required for scientific reasoning. In use thorough psychophysical methods to maintain a high internal validity. As a result the combination of virtual reality and psychophysical methods provide an experimental approach that has both high internal and ecological validity.
Imagine you are interacting with the person in the image: Knowing whether she is greeting you with a fist bump or is going to punch you is very important for choosing the appropriate action response. In real life people have often little difficulties to interpret the actions of other people appropriately. But how does the brain achieve this remarkable feat? In my research I investigate the underlying psychological processes of social information processing. I use computational models of actions - such as the action morph in the image - to examine, for example, how people make decisions about another person's action.
In brief, my research investigates non-verbal social behavior including faces and bodies. I combine modeling, computer science, and thorough psychological and neuroscientific experimentation to gain insights about perceptual, cognitive and motor processes involved in social behavior.
I focus on bodily and facial movements. I aim to investigate these processes under close-to-natural conditions. For this reason I use virtual reality, motion tracking and computational models to create realistic environments that enable participants to behave naturally. At the same time, these setup provide the degree of experimental control required for scientific reasoning.
Recently, we have described a novel way to examine the perceptual and cognitive processes underlying the human ability to tell two actions apart (e.g. a handshake from a high-five). We are using an action morphing algorithm in combination with an adaptation paradigm and an action categorization task to target behavioral correlates of neural categorization processes. Using this adaptation paradigm we are able to change the perception of an action and can determine the visual variables responsible underlying action categorization. Click here for an online demonstration of the adapatation effect.
Overall, my research spans cognition, perception, cognitive neuroscience and social neuroscience. The following is a list of my current research topics.
Testing participants is a time consuming and expensive task: one needs to schedule appointments with participants, coordinate the use of equipment, which is required for the experiment, with colleagues and sometimes need to compensate participants with student credit.
We were fortunate enough with the great support of the Department for Perception, Cognition, and Action at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics to develop and implement an online tool that can do all the above things. The best thing is that it is free to use for all research institutions.
If you would like to get more information about the free online participant and equipment management pool visit http://banto.co.