Shanghai Colloquium in Neuroeconomics: “If I Can See So Much, Why Do I Miss So Much?”

October 15, 2015 -- To kick off this academic year's Shanghai Colloquium in Neuroeconomics, Jeremy M. Wolfe, Professor of Ophthalmology and Radiology at Harvard Medical School presented “If I Can See So Much, Why Do I Miss So Much?” 

Dr. Wolfe's research sheds light on how when a person observes a new scene, it only takes a fraction of a second to form an immediate understanding of the ‘gist’ of that scene. After a few seconds of exposure, that scene is locked into one's mind for days. In his talk, Wolfe contended that we are ‘blind’ or remarkably amnesic about very basic aspects of what we have just seen. Referring to the capacity limits of the nervous system, he explained that processing visual stimuli, landing on the retina, is severely restricted.

With a sense of humor, and much interaction with the student-heavy audience, Wolfe used the popular visual search task of Where’s Waldo as an example. Waldo, hidden in some intricate scenario, must be identified.  A limited set of basic features, for example his notable red striped clothing, are intended to attract one's attention, but until they actually see the object that happens to be Waldo, they simply do not know if he is present or not.

In the real world, the processes of guidance are so effective that you often do not notice the searches of everyday life. “Your hand finds the coffee mug or the fork without apparent effort, even though the search is similar in kind to a search for Waldo,” Wolfe says.

Wolfe delved into this seemingly contradictory collection of abilities and limits, along with how these aspects of normal human vision and attention impact socially important tasks like airport security and cancer screening.

The Shanghai Neuroeconomics Collective was formed and is sponsored by the NYU-ECNU Institute of Brain and Cognitive Science at NYU Shanghai, Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making at NYU, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, and Duke Kunshan University. The Colloquium is a signature program of the Collective.

Written by Charlotte San Juan. 

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