Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Neuro psychology mini-conference at UEL

The conference at the University of East London was organised by Dr Ashok Jansari and Rebecca Gordon as a way of bringing together the research teams associated with Ash's diverse research interests around prosopagnosia, synaesthesia and ways of measuring executive functions in children (JAAM-C).

Ashok gave the key note for this mini-conference, and gave us the hot off the press information on the Live Science experiment about facial recognition he and his team have been doing at London's Science Museum  for the past three months. They had literally finished a day or two before but he was still able to give us some snapshots of information about what they'd found, including identifying a healthy number of "super-recognisers", ie people who scored extremely highly in recognising faces in their tests. Apparently there are some people who claim to be able to remember faces even years after a fleeting meeting, and this is the opposite of prosopagnosia (AKA face-blindness, which is the subject of part of my PhD) where subjects have serious problems in being able to recognise faces at all. You can do the online Cambridge face test here if you fancy seeing if you are a super recogniser. If you are please contact Ashok!

Naomi Wells talked about her forthcoming comparative study of developmental, early acquired and late acquired prosopagnosia. One of the issues I am finding about prosopagnosia is that it manifests in very different ways depending on whether you were born with it or have acquired it later in life. I was quite relieved to hear that these differences are acknowledged issues and it was fascinating throughout the afternoon or presentations to hear information I've heard anecdotally being backed up with scientifically proven figures, graphs and studies.

Rebecca Gordon talked about her Msc project using a virtual reality environment to measure executive function (also known as 'superior cognitive constructs', which I loosely translated as the process of growing up and maturing which happens - hopefully - during adolescence) which was really fascinating and a wonderful example of using game/animated environments to find out about reality (I claim this as a score for the validity of animated documentary!).

I was going to attend anyway but I was really pleased to be asked to present my PhD work in progress about prosopagnosia too, despite its very different provenance from the rest of the (super-scientific-brainiac) research. I always feel it can go one of two ways when you present across disciplines; either they won't know what you're on about and will be baffled by the relevance to their area, or else they'll slightly over-value its difference from the rest of the papers and really enjoy it. Luckily it was the latter this time. Who doesn't love a bit of cartoon?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Post graduate animation research conference, Bournemouth

I've recently come back from a couple of post graduate research conferences. One was the first meeting of the animation post-graduate research group at the Arts University in Bournemouth and the other was at the Psychology Department at the University of East London. Working on a PhD can be quite isolating, no matter how supportive your supervisors and cohort are, and having the opportunity to present work in progress in a supportive environment of knowledgable peers is really helpful in building confidence and making connections with people dealing with the same issues as you. 

Bournemouth was a great explosion of animation PhD information. It was eye opening to meet so many people from all over the country working on different aspects of animation post graduate research. The day was the inaugural animation PGR group meeting (it has existed as a Google group for a few months, initiated by Dr Paul Ward who hosted the first meeting) and was an opportunity to present extended papers and get feedback. Normally at a conference the paper is only 20 minutes long, but here we could talk for 30 (plus plenty of time for questions) which was a practical way of getting into the meat of our phD concerns as well as using the audience as a sounding board.

The presentations were all very diverse in subject and approach, most were pure research but a few were based on practice led work so it was a nice mix. There was a brilliant feeling of camaraderie amongst the group and the feedback was all really constructive. Animation as an area is notoriously friendly (I always think it's because we're all so pleased to be away from our animating desks and in a bit of company...) which can sometimes lead to charges of not enough rigorous criticism but this definitely was not the case here. I came at with some good suggestions about how to improve my work and reinvigorated about working on my research subject.

There's going to be a second animation PGR meeting in London at King's College later in the spring, please join the Google group if you are interested in attending.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Article in Animation Studies online journal

Ooo, a bit of a plug here but I have had an article published in the Animation Studies online journal here dealing with the animated documentary and 'pyscho-realism'.

It's my first academic article publication. As part of my PhD study over the last 15 months I have given several papers at conferences and had a couple of them accepted for publication, but academic publication can take ages so getting the final product out there can be a protracted and tortuous road. The Animation Studies journal, edited by Nichola Dobson, is online which I think makes the turnaround quicker than it would be if it were real paper. The benefit is that it is much more accessible for readers - if you can bear to please do have a look ...