How our ability to see, feel and hear tells us about the workings of the brain

Posted on: 15 December 2017

One of the greatest challenges for the human brain is to maintain a coherent perception of the world despite a bombardment of information from the senses,” explained Professor of Experimental Psychology, Fiona Newell, on the occasion of her inaugural lecture this week.

The research of Professor Newell, together with her collaborators, has allowed us to make important inferences on the functioning of the sensory brain: what we see, hear and feel can be predicted not only by the nature of the sensory information itself, but also on the underlying neural system, and our prior experiences. These investigations have revealed interesting individual differences in perceptual abilities, from specific impairments in face recognition to a cross-sensory condition known as synaesthesia. The application of these research findings in the development of novel tools for measuring perceptual function, as well as rehabilitating perception following decline, was outlined by Professor Newell in her lecture  titled ‘Perception in mind: how our ability to see, feel and hear tells us about the workings of the human brain’.

Despite significant recent advances on our understanding of perceptual processes, many questions posed by philosophers over 300 years ago, on the relationship between perception and the mind, remain unanswered. Professor Newell’s lecture also demonstrated how such questions could help set an important context for future directions in the scientific study of human perception.

About Professor Newell:

Fiona Newell is Professor of Experimental Psychology in the School of Psychology. She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin (BA mod. in Psychology) and obtained her PhD from the University of Durham, UK. For her post-doctoral training she spent time in various academic institutions including the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK, the Weizmann institute, Israel and the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Germany. Following a brief career working in private industry, she returned to Trinity College in 2000 to take up a lectureship position in the School of Psychology. She became a Fellow of Trinity College in 2005.

Fiona’s main research interests and teaching topics are in human sensory and perceptual processes and her approach is firmly multidisciplinary. She has published close to 100 research papers and chapters in many of the leading journals and text books in Psychology and Neuroscience and currently acts as associate editor of three international journals in the field. She manages an active research team and her research has been widely supported by both national and international funding agencies, including Science Foundation Ireland, EU Horizon 2020, Health Research Board. In 2011 she was awarded US Fulbright Scholarship. Fiona is committed to public engagement in science and maintains an active partnership with the Science Gallery in Dublin and internationally.

Provost, Prof Newell and Faculty Dean, Prof Jones on the occasion of the inaugural lecture.