Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College


Rolf Nelson

Rolf Nelson

Associate Professor of Psychology
Dorothy Reed Williams Professorship 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


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

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