When looking isn't seeing: Is cockpit design flawed?

of experiments have found that the human performance can be optimized by combining several features into one object in a display situation. Combining a number of pieces of information in a single object appeared to improve reaction times and visual memory compared to separating the information in two or more objects. "However our recent experiments have shown that, in many cases, exactly the opposite is true," says Dr. Davis. "The design of previous experiments was flawed, effectively eliminating one important visual processing pathway in the brain."

Dr Davis has found that information sources can be more efficiently processed when they belong to separate objects. "Contrary to conclusions from previous work, reducing the number of objects in a display appears to have no general effect on perceptual performance. Indeed, in many cases, this adversely affects performance," says Dr. Davis. "This has important implications for a diverse range of display technologies including cockpit displays, car dashboards and virtual environment situations."

Two paths to perception

Dr. Davis suggests that there are two separate pathways that process different visual information. "To process 'within-object' relationships between shape, colour and texture features of the same object, one brain pathway, the parvocellular-ventral processing stream, is used. In contrast, our research indicates that 'between-object' information, that relationships between features from separate, neighbouring objects, are processed via a second pathway: the magnocellular-dorsal processing stream," explains Dr. Davis.

Cells in the parvocellular-ventral pathway show long-lived responses to objects in the visual field and play a major role in our recognition of objects. However, the magnocelllular-dorsal process is implicated in the visual guidance of action: the mechanism by which we judge distances between objects and that allows us (usually) to reach out and grab objects.

Contact: Tim Reynolds
Royal Society

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