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Our tricky brains

12 August 2016

Second year PhD student Kim Ransley’s research aims to increase our understanding of the mechanics of reading.  

Written text in a book

Have you ever wondered how our brain processes large pieces of information such as the text on this page? Kim Ransley’s PhD research, in the area of visual perception and cognition, aims to increase our understanding of the mechanics of reading.  

Our brain cannot process all of the information contained within a paragraph of text, as there are too many fine details. Kim’s current focus on visual attention and reading looks at the parts of text that are important for our understanding, and more specifically, how our brain takes information received by the retina and processes that data so that we are able to see and read.  

“The brain is not very sensitive to transposed letters, and so there are experiments you can do where you can flip around the two middle letters within a word and people just read it as they think it ought to be,” says Kim. 

An image displaying a sentence that has internally scrambled letters but correct first and last letter.

Another demonstration of the “tricky things that the brain is doing to help you understand written text”, involves writing the letters ‘BXXT’ on a piece of paper and sticking it to a wall. On slow approach from 10 metres away, Kim explains that at some point, “you’ll think it says boat. Your brain doesn’t read ‘XX’, instead it will replace it with the letters that it thinks are there.”

Kim has been comparing the differences in the way human brains process information from English texts, which read from left to right, and Arabic texts, which read from right to left. Kim wants to understand if the direction of information processing is limited to text written in a certain language or if a person’s first language dominates the direction in which their brain processes information.

As part of ‘A Night of Illusions’ on Friday 19 August, Kim will be demonstrating the effects of wearing and then removing ‘prism goggles’, which alter our field of vision and hence our perception of the world. 

The Sydney Science Festival runs from 11 to 21 August. There are over 100 events bringing science to life across the city – there’s something for everyone! 

A Night of Illusions

The evening will feature a number of interactive demonstrations followed by talks and discussions with many talented scientists including:

Dr Tatjana Seizova-Cajic – University of Sydney scientist who has dedicated many years to the study of human perception

Kim Ransley – University of Sydney PhD candidate researching spatial attention in the reading process

Friday 19 August 2016
6.00pm - 10.00pm
107 Projects, 107 Redfern Street, Redfern
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