I study mismatches between sensation and perception. My primary research interest is cross-modal influences on human perception: the ways in which information in one sensory modality can alter perception in an in an unrelated modality (perception without sensation). For example, how does what we see influence what we hear or smell or feel? My hope is that by studying these interactions, we can learn more about how the brain combines information from multiple senses to form more abstract representations of identity.
I am particularly interested in grapheme-color synesthesia, a condition in which black-and-white letters are perceived as having a consistent color. The specific associations between grapheme and color in synesthetes are influenced by numerous properties in different modalities (shape, sound, semantics, etc.). By comparing grapheme-color associations between letters, between synesthetes, and between groups of synesthetes in different countries, we can determine which cross-modal associations are universal, which are driven by cultural or linguistic factors, and which are unique to an individual. This may yield insights into how each of these factors can influence the organization of language-encoding areas in the brain.
In addition to my research on cross-modal perception, I am also interested in unconscious processing (sensation without perception). I use visual masking techniques to study the extent to which our brains can process information without conscious awareness. I am particularly interested in characterizing the degree to which stimulus properties, masking properties, and individual differences interact to determine whether stimuli can be processed consciously or unconsciously. By better understanding the extent of cognitive processes that can be performed without consciousness, my hope is that we will someday be able to explain what cognitive processes require consciousness, and why.