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Honour's Thesis ideas

Page history last edited by Jim Davies 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Fourth-year undergraduates in cognitive science (and psychology) need to do an honours project. This page has some project ideas. Note that if you are a psychology student, you will need a co-supervisor in psychology if you want to work with Jim Davies.


Programming Projects


Using LLMs to get the sizes of things.

In the Science of Imagination Laboratory we want to create software that imagines visual scenes the same way people do. This is made difficult by the fact that we have no database of the sizes of everyday things. For example, how long is a pencil? How tall is an elephant? All of these facts are out there somewhere, but not in a single database that software can access. I believe that this information is contained in Large Language Models (LLMs). In this project you will get a list of all concrete nouns (this might be available in databases such as WordNet). Figure out what the format of the output should be (do we ask for weight? Height? Orientation? Should it be a python data structure of some kind?). Construct a prompt that will get the data on some object in the format we want. Then run an LLM in batch to populate a database of object sizes, etc. Skills required: programming, being good at getting other people's software to work, knowledge representation in code


Philosophical/Theoretical/Literature Review Projects


Project 5.21 Functional and Computational descriptions of what brain areas do

It's common for some brain areas or structures to be used in a variety of cognitive tasks. This suggests that each structure is doing some kind of computation that is useful for many tasks. How can we describe these functions? Depending on how this project goes, it might be more about the idea of this, or taking a specific brain structure (e.g., the Amygdala) and trying to come up with a computational account of what it does across tasks.


Data Analysis


How do people imagine scenes? 

Previous students Sara Abou-Alwan and Gabriel Smith ran a study in which they asked participants to describe their mental imagery when picturing scenes like beaches and living rooms. These interviews were transcribed. The two students graduated and are no longer working on the project. This project now involves analyzing their data, looking for patterns, and figuring out what can be said about it for publication. What have we learned about how people imagine scenes from these transcripts? Skills required: Simple statistics, protocol analysis, creativity.



Empirical Psychology (running participants) Projects


Clustering cognitive biases

There are hundreds of psychological biases, but are they really distinct? Perhaps many of them result from the same underlying psychological process. For example, confirmation bias and congruence bias might be different behavioral manifestations of the same underlying psychological tendency. This project explores this idea. Find a few biases that 1) seem kind of similar and 2) can be measured in terms of magnitude (in other words, when we test how strong the bias is, we get variance between participants in their scores). If the biases are based on the same underlying psychological trait, then these magnitudes should correlate. Skills required: reading psychological literature, experimental design, correlation and statistics. For an undergraduate project, this might involve only design. The next student would actually run the experiment. 


Is there such a thing as unconscious visual imagery?

People vary widely on how vivid their visual mental imagery is. Some, called aphantasics, have no experience of visual imagery at all. But is this because they have no mental imagery, or do they have mental imagery but are unable to consciously access it? This project will test with an empirical study. It requires recruitment of aphantasics and non-aphantasics, which might be difficult. A study showed that people are more likely to give deontological judgments to the trolley problem if asked to imagine it vividly. Find a test like this and ask everybody, including aphantasics, to try to image, even though they might feel it is fruitless. Then see if there are imagery effects on their responses. If there are, then we have evidence to support the idea of unconscious imagery. Skills required for this project: power analysis, statistics, experimental design and running.


Project 5.33: Memories from Further in the Past are More Prototypical

Previous work has shown that imagining things happening in the past (real or fiction) are imagined as more prototypical than things imagined in the future. 

Gilbert, D. T., Morewedge, C. K., Risen, J. L., & Wilson, T. D.(2004). Looking forward to looking backward. Psychological Science, 15, 346-350.

But as of yet nobody has shown that imagining things further in the past or future increases the effect size. That is, if you imagine something far in the past, is it less prototypical than thinking of something recently in the past? Run an experiment to test this. 


Project 5.30: Can you remember colours visualized as being behind you? 

Some scientists claim that there are two kinds of picture-like imagery: visual and spatial. Visual imagery is 2d and has size and color and object identification, and spatial imagery is 3d and has only locations of things in space (ignoring things like texture and colour.) Visual imagery is thought to be analogous to your visual field, but in the head. So if you imagine something behind you (without cheating*), then it shouldn't retain very well visual properties like colour. So in this experiment participants look at colours, say a particular shade of red, and then try to hold the image of that colour in imagery, but as though it were behind them. Another group images it normally. Later, we predict that people who imaged behind would have poorer recognition of exactly what shade of colour it was. 

* cheating would be to reorient oneself in the imaginary space so that they are looking at themselves in the 3rd person, with the colour behind them, technically, but not behind the imaginary point of view.






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