Jason E. Reiss
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research Laboratory
Ph.D. in Psychology (Cognitive), University of Delaware
M.A., in Psychology (Clinical), University of Delaware
B.A., in Psychology (Minor in Computer Science), Wittenberg University
Cognitive Neuroscience; Visual Attention, Perception, and Awareness; Spatial Cognition and Cognitive Development
Object Substitution Masking; Attentional Blink; Inattentional and Change Blindness; Object- and Space-Based Attention; Visual Search; Motion Perception; Orientation Perception; Williams Syndrome; Infant Perceptual Categorization
Event-Related Brain Potentials (ERPs), Eye Tracking, Behavioral Methods
As a psychologist, I am interested in understanding the human mind. In particular, my research focuses on how we experience and understand the world through vision, our dominant sense. The perspective I follow comes from the cognitive revolution in psychology, which was founded on the belief that our experience is not simply defined by the passive recording of stimuli 'out there' in the world but, alternatively, reflects our active interpretation of those stimuli. Put another way, cognitive psychologists argue that the key to understanding the human mind lies not in the world itself but in how we make sense of or give meaning to that world.
Click on Thumbnail to See an Example of the Cognitive Perspective of the Mind with an Explanation
Primary Research Focus: Mechanisms of Visual Attention
One important way that our minds create meaningful experiences is by selecting only a few specific aspects of our environment to focus on at any given moment. At first, the notion that we only richly perceive a small portion of our surroundings seems at odds with common sense. Most of us have the impression that we have a complete and accurate representation of our visual surroundings. This, however, is an illusion. As we go throughout our day and interact with the world, the typical scene simply contains far too many details for the visual system to process. Therefore, our brains have developed attentional mechanisms to manage this overwhelming amount of information. Attention selects which aspects of a scene will receive the limited resources needed for perceptual understanding. Often, the particular information selected - which determines what we are consciously aware of - depends on our background as well as our current goals and expectations. As the focus of our attention changes, so does our experience and understanding of the world around us.
Click on Thumbnail to See an Example of the Cognitive Perspective of the Mind and Visual Attention with an Explanation
The primary focus of my research, therefore, is to explore the mechanisms that underlie selection as well as the relationship between visual attention, perception, and awareness. Fundamental questions include:
- How do perceptual representations differ between objects that occur within vs. outside the focus of attention (i.e., what types of information can be processed without attention)?
- What are the limits of attention (i.e., what are the consequences of trying to pay attention to multiple objects)?
- How does attention determine what to select vs. what to ignore (i.e., what controls attention)?
To understand these issues, I use high-density event-related brain potentials (ERPs; brain activity associated with specific stages of mental processing), eye tracking (the eyes can serve as a good index of our moment-to-moment focus of attention), and standard behavioral paradigms.
One of the approaches I often take is to study cases in which the selection system fails. In particular, because attention is so strongly tied to what we are consciously aware of, aspects of a scene that fail to receive adequate resources often go unnoticed even if an individual is 'looking' directly at them. A common example of this functional blindness (i.e., failure to see even though there is nothing actually wrong with the visual system) occurs when you are sitting in your car at an intersection and fail to notice the light change from red to green even though your eyes were directed at the traffic light. This scenario often elicits a “Hey you. Pay attention!” response from the drivers behind you - which ends up being an accurate assessment of the situation. By using invoking conditions of functional blindness, I can gain a better sense of the limitations and underlying processes of the attentional system’s normal operations.
Secondary Research Focus: Visual Cognition and Object Perception
Beyond studying the relationship between visual attention, perception, and awareness, I also study visual cognition broadly construed. Although this is a vast field, most of my work has to do with understanding the mechanisms and development of object perception. Working closely with students and colleagues has allowed me to combine resources and answer unique questions about fundamental issues in cognition. Examples include:
Spatial Cognition in Williams Syndrome: I am working with researchers at the University of Delaware, Johns Hopkins University, and MIT on a project which examines the development of spatial cognition in children and adults with Williams Syndrome (WS), a rare genetically-based disorder that results in relatively preserved language capacities but profound impairments in spatial abilities. This population provides a unique case of specialization across/within cognitive domains and allows for the study of what constellations of skills or deficits go together. My approach to understanding the nature of deficits in WS is to conduct fine-grained analyses of performance in a variety of related tasks (e.g., motion perception, orientation perception, and visual short-term memory) in order to 'zero in' on the specific subprocesses responsible for performance deficits. This approach is essential if we are to gain a clear understanding of the WS cognitive profile with the hope of developing ways to improve their daily lives. It is also possible that by studying the pattern of damage in WS, we may learn more about the cognitive architecture in other special populations as well as in the typically developing individual.
Object Categorization in Infancy: Another relatively new line of collaborative research with researchers at the University of Delaware focuses on the development of human visual cognition, in particular, how young infants come to represent information about object categories. Several projects are currently underway that use both high-density ERPs as well as eye tracking to examine the mechanisms, visual cues, and developmental/experiential time course by which infants group visual objects into category representations (e.g., how do young infants learn to group heterogeneous visual stimuli into perceptual categories that adults would refer to as "cat", "dog", "beagle", "St. Bernard", etc.). In many ways, this remarkable ability has been suggested to serve as the foundation for higher-order human cognition.
Research Done with Students
My work with students in the lab is designed to (i) provide them with a foundation in cognition and cognitive neuroscience and (ii) give them hands-on experience with the research process. To accomplish these goals, I try to create a friendly and collaborative environment where new and experienced students can work and learn from both each other and myself. We hold lab meetings during which we discuss important conceptual issues and empirical findings regarding the focus of the lab (i.e., visual attention, perception, and awareness). In the process of covering these questions and findings, I work to help students learn about the underlying principles and advantages/disadvantages of different methodologies so that they can know when and how to apply these techniques to specific research questions. As we discuss these topics, we also work as a group to develop new experiments that may serve as lab projects. I strive to involve students with every stage of the research process.
Interested in Working in the Lab?
We are always looking for highly motivated students to work in the lab through the WRP (Wheaton Research Program) and various grants during both the academic year and the summer. We also welcome volunteers who are interested in gaining experience in a research setting and who are interested in visual cognitive neuroscience. Please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to get involved!
Cognitive Neuroscience; Lab in Cognitive Psychology; Brain, Mind, and Behavior; Learning and Memory; Quantitative Research Methods; Psychology and Horror
Quinn, P. C., Doran, M. M., Reiss, J. E., & Hoffman, J. E. (2010). Neural correlates of subordinate-level categorization in 6- to 7-month-old infants. Developmental Science, 13, 499-507.
Quinn, P. C., Doran, M. M., Reiss, J. E., & Hoffman, J. E. (2009). Time course of visual attention in infant categorization of cats versus dogs: Evidence for a head bias as revealed through eye tracking. Child Development, 80, 151-161.
Reiss, J. E. (2008). Object substitution masking: What is the neural fate of the unreportable target? SaarbrÃπcken, Germany: VDM.
Reiss, J. E., & Hoffman, J. E. (2007). Disruption of early face recognition processes by object substitution masking. Visual Cognition, 15, 789-798.
Reiss, J. E., & Hoffman, J. E. (2006). Object substitution masking interferes with semantic processing: Evidence from ERPs. Psychological Science, 12, 1015-1020.
Landau, B., Hoffman, J. E., Reiss, J. E., Dilks, D. D., Lakusta, L., & Chunyo, G. (2006). Specialization, breakdown, and sparing in spatial cognition: Lessons from Williams-Beuren syndrome. In C. A. Morris, H. M. Lenhoff, & P. P. Wang (Eds.), Williams-Beuren syndrome: Research, evaluation, and treatment (pp. 207-236). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Reiss, J. E., Hoffman, J. E., & Landau, B. (2005). Motion processing specialization in Williams syndrome. Vision Research, 45, 3379-3390.
Simons, R. F., Detenber, B. H., Cuthbert, B. N., Schwartz, D. D., & Reiss, J. E. (2003). Attention to television: Alpha power and its relationship to image motion and emotional content. Media Psychology, 5, 283-301.
Jordan, H., Reiss, J. E., Hoffman, J. E., & Landau, B. (2002). Intact perception of biological motion in the face of profound spatial deficits: Williams syndrome. Psychological Science, 13, 162-167.
Detenber, B. H., Simons, R. F., & Reiss, J. E. (2000). The emotional significance of color in television presentations. Media Psychology, 2, 331-355.
Simons, R. F., Detenber, B. H., Reiss, J. E., & Shults, C.W. (2000). Image motion and context: A between- and within-subjects comparison. Psychophysiology, 37, 706-710.
Simons, R. F., Detenber, B. H., Roedema, T. M., & Reiss, J. E. (1999). Emotion processing in three systems: The medium and the message. Psychophysiology, 36, 619-627.
Media Coverage Related to Teaching
- Hannah, J. (Producer). (2009, October 30). CNN American Morning. [Television broadcast]. Atlanta, GA: Cable News Network. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/showbiz/2009/10/30/wynter.what.scares.you.cnn.html
Print and Web Media
- Hannah, J. (2009, October 30). A tale of horror: producer and reporter bare all. Message posted to http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/30/a-tale-of-horror-producer-and-reporter-bare-all/
- Whitehead, D. (2009, October 29). Exploring the attraction of horror films. Norton Mirror*. Retrieved from http://www.wickedlocal.com/norton/fun/entertainment/x1717114815/Exploring-the-attraction-of-horror-at-Wheaton
*This story was picked up by over 60 other papers across the country
- Gelbwasser, M. (2009, October 29). Ah, the horror of it all: Wheaton students discover genre. The Sun Chronicle [Attleboro]. Retrieved from http://www.thesunchronicle.com/articles/2009/10/29/news/6345791.txt#at