The Exploratory Laboratory

  • 18 June 2010 - 30 August 2010

In partnership with the Visual Perception Lab, part of the exhibition Persistence of Vision. FACT have worked with Marco Bertamini and Rebecca Lawson (Visual Perception Lab, the University of Liverpool) to create a series of interactive touch screen games that test your memory and visual perception. By uploading your score onto facebook, you can also compete against your friends and family.

Game 1: The Stroop Effect

This test measures how well you can ignore irrelevant information. You are shown a colour word (like 'blue') which is written in the same or a different colour ink and you have to name the ink colour. When the word and the ink colour do not match (eg the word blue is written in red ink) your response time is longer. The effect is named after John Ridley Stroop who first reported the effect in 1935. This paper is one of the most cited papers in the history of experimental psychology. Of course, Stroop did not use a computer in 1929 but the effect is so strong that it can be measured even with a stopwatch. The Stroop effect is sometimes used as a clinical test for deficits of attention and you can find versions of it in popular video games. With the move towards humans developing more sophisticated visual skills, and potentially using our verbal memory less, we are interested to see if the findings of the original study differ to today's results.

Game 2: 3D Spatial Ability

In this game you are asked to match three-dimensional shapes which are placed at different orientations. A consistent finding is that the time taken to decide if two shapes are identical increases with an increasing difference in orientation between the two shapes. This suggests that we may actually be rotating the two shapes into alignment in our mind. Research shows that men tend to do better than women at spatial skills such as this game as well as geometry, interpreting technical drawings and reading maps. However, in 2007 Ian Spence and colleagues conducted a study which revealed that playing action-oriented video games not only improves spatial skills for both males and females, but that repeated exposure to video games removed this male advantage. So how well you do might depend on how many video games you have played rather than your sex - we want to find out!

Game 3: Object Versus Face Recognition

This game shows you objects and faces and asks you to remember which ones you have seen immediately before in the game. Faces fascinate us, presumably because of their social importance. Humans are highly specialised at recognizing faces compared to other objects. Recent studies have shown that babies are born with a basic preference for faces over other objects. This skill rapidly develops so that soon babies learn to recognise the most familiar faces in their environment, despite faces generally looking highly similar. This expertise predicts that people will usually be better at face than object recognition.


Game 4: Speed of Reaction Tests

This test shows you a dot and asks you to touch it as quickly as possible, assessing how fast and accurate your perceptual and motor processes are. We might expect younger generations, because they have had more exposure to using digital media and computer games, have faster, more accurate responses than older generations. Also, irrespective of our experience with such games, our reaction times tend to get faster as we mature, becoming fastest for young adults, and then gradually slow across the remainder of our lifespan. We want to see whether it is age or video game experience that predicts people's ability on this task.

Game 5: Matrix Memory

In this game you are briefly shown a set of coloured squares and are asked to remember where they were. To do this task you must make a mental 'snapshot' of the grid. People often use this kind of brain training game to try and improve their mental agility online. The suggestion is that developing stronger matrix memory skills might help us to remember things such as where we parked our car or how to find our friend's house. We might also be better at recognising changes in our physical environment. However, recent research suggests that we may not generalise such learning to other situations - so brain training may only improve your performance on brain training tasks. If so, then this won't help us in our everyday lives.

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