Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


Rolf Nelson

Rolf Nelson

Professor of Psychology
Coordinator, Neuroscience Program; Dorothy Reed Williams Professor in the Social Sciences (2015-2020)

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
B.A., Macalester College

Main Interests

My main interests are in the area of human visual perception. I study the way in which visual scenes are organized into something meaningful via processes like figure-ground organization and Gestalt grouping. I also do research in other areas within cognition, including implicit perception, visual perception in autism, and the effects of video games on critical thinking skills.

Research Interests

Visual perception, figure-ground organization, Gestalt grouping factors, implicit perception.

Teaching Interests

Perception, cognition, memory, experimental lab, consciousness

Other Interests

Traveling, kids, home improvement, good food, visual illusions


Hardy, J.L., Nelson, R.A., Thomason, M.E., Sternberg, D.A., Katovich, K., Faraz, F., & Scanlon, M. (2015). Enhancing Cognitive Abilities with Comprehensive Training: A Large, Online, Randomized, Active-Controlled Trial. PLoS One, 10(9): e0134467.

Nelson, R., Reiss, J.E., Gong, X., Conklin, S., Parker, L., & Palmer, S.E. (2014). The shape of a hole is perceived as the shape of its interior. Perception, 43(10), 1033-1048.

Nelson, R., & Strachan, I. (2009). Action and puzzle video games prime different speed/accuracy tradeoffs. Perception, 38(11), 1678-1687.

Nelson, R., Thierman, J., & Palmer, S.E. (2009). Shape memory for intrinsic versus accidental holes. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, 71(1),200-206.

Palmer, S. E., Davis, J., Nelson, R., & Rock, I. (2008). Figure-ground effects on shape memory for objects versus holes. Perception, 37, 1569-1586.

Nelson, R., & Palmer, S. (2007). Familiar shapes attract attention in figure-ground displays. Perception and Psychophysics, 69(3), 382-392.

Nelson, R., & Prinzmetal, W. (2003). On the relation between roll and pitch. Visual Cognition, 10(6), 715-728.

Palmer, S., Brooks, J., & Nelson, R. (2003). When does grouping happen? Acta Psychologica, 114(3) 311-330.

Nelson, R., & Palmer, S. (2001). Of holes and wholes: The perception of surrounded regions. Perception, 30, 1213-1226.

Palmer, S. & Nelson, R. (2000). Late influences on perceptual grouping: Illusory figures. Perception and Psychophysics, 62(7), 1321-1331.

Student Projects

Fall '15

James O'Loughlin: Video game play and implicit priming

Spring '15

Ivy Gu:  Figure/ground organization

Summer '14

Katherine Merin:  Saccadic Persistence of Vision

Summer '13

Nick Hebda:  Implicit associations in video game play

Spring -Fall '12

Tongbo Sui & Xue Gong:  Video game play and stress

Spring-Fall '12

Xue Gong:  Holes and figure/ground organization

Fall '10 - Spring '12

Emily Greene-Colozzi, Kelsey Dowart, Kate Niegisch:  Color preference in zebrafish

Fall '10-Fall '11

Laura Parker:  Seasonal differences in color perception

Fall '09:
Sherri Conklin, Jared Floch, Laura Parker: The perception of negative space

Fall '08 - Spring '09:
Sherri Conklin, Jared Floch, & Ian Strachan: Cognitive priming in video games

Ian Strachan. Priming speed/accuracy tradeoffs.

Summer/Fall '07:
Brianne Jeffrey, Sherri Conklin, Michael Koltz, & Jared Floch: Cognitive & perceptual effects of video games.

Fall '06 - Spring '07:
Brian Cartun: The perception of negative space

Fall '05 - Spring '06
Brian Cartun, Paige MacGregor: Attention and figure-ground perception