Prof. Tal Makovski

Discipline: Cognitive Psychology

Expert in: attention, visual memory, implicit learning

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Key words: attention, visual working memory, visual learning, illusions 

What are you currently researching?
I have two main lines of research these days. One concerns the role of meaning in visual memory. For example, we recently showed that visual long-term memory, which has been traditionally viewed as having unbounded memory capacity, is highly restricted for meaningless objects. This finding has important implications for the way we think about visual representations and further blurs the distinction between visual short-term and long-term memory, as apparently both are not that different in terms of capacity and can store only limited amounts of meaningless information. The other line of research examines how the visual system prepares for upcoming stimuli, specifically task-irrelevant distracting stimuli. I found that people are allocating more attentional resources when they know a distractor is coming even though they need to ignore it, and this effect is quite robust and independent of the informative or emotional value of the upcoming stimulus.

How did you become involved in your research field?
For my BA, I studied psychology and philosophy, as I was interested in the way people think and view the world and how our perception shapes and restricts our understanding of the outside world. I think, however, that the main lesson I got from my philosophy studies is that one cannot understand the world merely by thinking, and empirical evidence is required for addressing these big questions. Cognitive psychology is the scientific field perfectly suited to tackle these questions.      

What inspired you to become a researcher?
Curiosity. Most of my research is basic rather than applied science, yet it is related to almost all aspects of our lives. The way we represent our knowledge, the factors that determine our internal and external foci of attention, the things we remember, and the things we incidentally learn along the way – all are fundamental factors in the way we eventually behave and act in the world.   

Which of your research findings would you like to highlight?
All are close to me heart, but apart from the theoretical contributions, I particularly like the two visual illusions I stumbled upon -the visual attractor illusion and the open-object illusion.