Evan McHughes Palmer


Evan Palmer

Chair & Associate Professor

Department of Psychology


Cognitive Science, Human Factors, Vision, Perception, Attention, Health Care

Current Research Activities

I am a use-inspired basic scientist who applies methods and theories from basic science to real-world problems. I combine research in cognitive science (the study of intelligent  behavior in humans and machines) with human factors (the study of how humans interact with technological systems). Specifically, my research focuses on how modern technologies interact with cognition, attention, and perception. One line of research focuses on what people can see in a single glance. I have published basic research on the time course of visual attention and perception and applied research on the perception of web pages, including when people ignore web advertisements or notice them. Another area of my research focuses on training people to be better at socially-critical perceptual and cognitive tasks like classifying medical images, perceiving road hazards while driving, or performing patient handoffs. My lab also researches gamification techniques to determine how elements like points, badges, sound effects, and leaderboards can improve motivation and performance in otherwise boring tasks.

Personal Connections to Research

I like to play video games and in the last decade or so the field of visual perception has recognized that some video games are really good at improving visual functioning. This led me to wonder how the human visual system changes in response to the reward structures inherent in video games, which then led to our set of studies on gamified visual search training.

It’s a little dated now, but the book Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson really changed the way I viewed modern technology and media and the effects they are having on our culture. We often want to complain about how “kids these days” waste their time on video games, texting, web surfing, and reality TV, but maybe those activities are actually spurring society-wide cognitive improvements. Johnson reviews the data on the “Flynn Effect” which shows that average IQs have been improving about 3 points per decade since the 1930s. He suggests that the increasing complexity and pace of modern society is behind the increase in IQ, which means that activities some consider frivolous might actually be cognitively complex and “good” for you.

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