John J. McDonald
Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience
Tier 2 - 2004-03-01
Simon Fraser University
Natural Sciences and Engineering
Investigation of the neural systems mediating perceptions of multimodal objects that exist in our environment
Improvements in understanding of the perceptual and attentive deficits in individuals with various clinical disorders; development of better human-computer interfaces and virtual environments
Electrifying Experiences in a Multi-Sensory World
At almost every waking moment, there are numerous sights that could catch our eye, numerous sounds that could cause us to prick up our ears, and numerous pressures on our skin that could cause us pleasure or pain. Traditionally, psychologists have focused on how people see, hear, and feel when stimuli from one modality occur in the absence of any input from the other modalities, and this approach has led to many discoveries about the ways in which paying attention can influence what we perceive. The world around us, however, rarely stimulates just one of our senses at a time. To a surprisingly large degree, what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste depends on the sensory information that is received by the other senses. For example, in face-to-face communication, watching the speaker's lips move actually improves our ability to hear that speaker's voice. Clearly, there is still much to learn about how paying attention influences our perceptions of objects in the real world.
Dr. John McDonald's research reveals how paying attention influences the perception of objects in multi-sensory environments. By combining innovative behavioural techniques with sophisticated measurements of the brain's electrical activity, he and his colleagues have demonstrated that attending to an object in one sensory modality can substantially influence the perception of objects in other sensory modalities, and they have linked these perceptual effects to millisecond-by-millisecond changes in neural activity.
As the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, Dr. McDonald is shedding additional light on the neural underpinnings of "attentional" and perceptual processing of objects in realistic, multi-sensory environments. In addition, he is trying to deepen our understanding of the disorders that can adversely affect our perception of objects in multi-sensory environments. Ultimately, his research may lead to improvements in the diagnoses and treatments of various attention-related illnesses.