Dr Stephanie Goodhew

PhD
Senior Lecturer & ARC Future Fellow
ANU College of Health and Medicine

Areas of expertise

  • Psychology 1701

Research interests

Key Research Interest: Visual Attention (in particular the influence of attentional breadth of perception & mechanisms of regulation)

For most people, vision is the primary sensory modality, allowing us to navigate through the world and interact with it. It is our means of driving safely through traffic, avoiding obstacles, perceiving food we want to eat, reading, and recognising the face of a loved one. But at any given moment, there is far more information available to process in visual scenes than our brain is capable of processing to the level of awareness. This means that visual attention has a fundamental triaging role to play in shaping our perception of the world, by selecting certain relevant information for privileged processing, while filtering out other information.

In many real-world visual tasks, the size of the spatial area over which we apply our attentional resources is important. For example, when driving a car, reading the speedometer requires a narrow focus of spatial attention, whereas monitoring the road for any movement (e.g., child approaching the road, trajectories of other cars) requires a broad focus. Similarly, when watching a crowd of people, recognising an individual face requires a narrow focus of attention, while determining the direction in which the majority of the crowd is moving requires a broader one.

Laboratory research has confirmed that different attended-region sizes benefit different aspects of visual perception. For example, a narrow attended-region enhances perceptual acuity for fine spatial details, whereas a wide one facilitates visual search over multiple diverse objects. Crucially, the fact that different attended-region sizes are variably optimal for particular tasks implies that to successfully support dynamic and complex real-world vision, a critical task is not just to set a size for spatial attention, but to be able to flexibly alter (i.e., switch) this size in a rapid and efficient fashion. For example, attentional re-sizing underlies being able to quickly alter attended-region size from narrow focus on the speedo to broad focus on the whole scene to avoid collisions. My research is largely focussed on examining the perceptual consequences of different attended-region sizes, identifying which individuals are more efficient at attentional re-sizing, and whether attentional re-sizing flexibility is a skill that can be improved or trained.

Key Research Interest: Anxiety and Attention

Individuals with trait anxiety and social anxiety have an attentional bias toward threatening information in their environment. These biases appear to not only characterise anxiety, but also to be causally implicated in its origin and maintenance. For example, when giving a speech, an individual with social anxiety favours attending to the one frowning, bored-looking face, while ignoring the neutral or smiling faces in the crowd. Such selective processing of environment can distort these individuals' experiences of events, and ultimately exacerbate their anxiety. I am interested in improving our understanding of the cognitive processes that underlie such attentional biases. 

Key Research Interest: The Spatial and Temporal Dynamics of Conscious Object Perception

The human visual system is continuously confronted with dynamic visual input. This means that the system must parse this ongoing input into discrete objects to transform it into the coherent and stable visual scene that we consciously perceive. For example, when walking down a crowded street, there are a large number of people, who are moving, and can disappear temporarily behind other objects. From this, the system needs to infer what stimulation belongs to a continuing object over time (e.g., the same person, despite changes in their appearance because of viewpoint variation and location), versus what belongs to distinct objects (e.g., two different people who might occupy the same location between successive glances).Therefore, the visual system regularly has to draw an inference of whether input from a given location belongs to a continuous object identity through time (object continuity), versus two (or more) separate objects (object individuation). Such inferences occur before conscious perception, but ultimately determine our subjective experience of the world. I am interested in the mechanisms that underlie and influence inferences of object continuity versus object individuation. To do, I have studied these questions most extensively via object-substitution masking (OSM).

Biography

ARC Future Fellow, The Australian National University (2017-present)

Senior Lecturer, The Australian National University (2017-present)

Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher, The Australian National University (2014-2016)

Lecturer, The Australian National University (ANU) (2012-2016)

Postdoctoral Fellowship (funded by Ontario Government), University of Toronto, Canada (2011-2012)

PhD (with Dean’s Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence), University of Queensland (2008-2011)

Bachelor of Psychological Science (Hons I) with University Medal, University of Queensland (2004-2007)

 

Researcher's projects

Future Fellowship, The Causes and Consequences of Attentional Re-sizing Flexibility, awarded by the Australian Research Council to Stephanie Goodhew, $756,576 (2017-2021)

This project aims to investigate the mechanisms of dynamic re-scaling of visual attentional focus. Such changes are critical for task performance, yet to date almost nothing is known about the processes underlying them, other than that they can be slow. Using an innovative cognitive psychology approach integrating individual-differences, experimental, and training frameworks, this project expects to generate new theoretical knowledge about attentional rescaling and insights into how to improve it. The expected practical outcomes include selection and training programs for specific contexts (e.g., athletes). This should provide significant economic benefits, such as optimising performance prior to other costly forms of training.

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), The Temporal Dynamics of Conscious Object Perception, $371,220.00 (2014-2016)

We live in a constantly changing visual world. Thus a key inferential challenge that the human brain must solve is whether ongoing visual input represents a single object varying over time (for example, one person moving through a scene), or two distinct objects (for example, two different people successively occupying the same location). This project will investigate, for the first time, how the brain optimises this inference by using information about context, whether the flexibility of the inference process reduces with ageing, and the role of the two main visual pathways in this inference. This will enhance our knowledge of this fundamental process in vision, and our ability to promote optimal functioning into later life.

Publications

Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  18 June 2019 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers