The Cognitive Science Lab is currently conducting a variety of experiments, primarily focused on learning, attention, and decision-making.
We use the real-time strategy game StarCraft 2 in our lab as it is a useful domain in which to study learning and attention. RTS games, in which players develop game pieces called units with the ultimate goal to destroy their opponent’s headquarters, have two relevant differences from strategy games such as chess.
First, the game board, called a map, is much larger than what that player can see at any one time. The resulting uncertainty about the game state leads to a variety of information gathering strategies, and requires vigilance and highly developed attentional processes. Because the game records where players are looking throughout the game, we have access to this attentional data.
Second, players in RTS games do not have to wait for their opponent to play their turn. Players can play as fast as they are able. Players that can execute strategic goals more efficiently have an enormous advantage. Consequently, motor skills that allow for efficient keyboard and mouse use are an integral component of the game.
The lab has completed a number of Starcraft-based projects in diverse topics such as complex skill development (Video Game Telemetry as a Critical Tool in the Study of Complex Skill Learning), age-related changes in cognition (Over the Hill at 24: Persistent Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline in Reaction Times in an Ecologically Valid Video Game Task Begins in Early Adulthood), and motor chunking (Using Video Game Telemetry Data to Research Motor Chunking, Action Latencies, and Complex Cognitive‐Motor Skill Learning.).
For more information on the lab's video game telemetry research, see:
- Thompson J.J., Blair M.R., Chen L., Henrey A.J. (2013) Video Game Telemetry as a Critical Tool in the Study of Complex Skill Learning. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75129. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075129
- Thompson J.J., Blair M.R., Henrey A.J. (2014) Over the Hill at 24: Persistent Age-Related Cognitive-Motor Decline in Reaction Times in an Ecologically Valid Video Game Task Begins in Early Adulthood. PLoS ONE 9(4): e94215. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094215
- Thompson, J. J., McColeman, C. M., Stepanova, E. R., & Blair, M. R. (2017). Using Video Game Telemetry Data to Research Motor Chunking, Action Latencies, and Complex Cognitive‐Motor Skill Learning. Topics in Cognitive Science, 9(2), 467-484.
We also perform lab experiments on category learning, using eyetracking data to measure attention allocation as participants learn a simple categorization task. One of our most recent projects seeks to draw parallels between trends observed in eyetracking data from controlled laboratory studies and trends in screen-attention allocation from Starcraft 2 data. By comparing eye movements to screen movements, we hope to extend the findings of gaze allocation reseach to attention alllocation more generally. This is especially relevant as the world becomes increasingly digital--people communicate, shop, and work through screens, making the computer interface an attentional tool we use almost as much as our eyes.
The lab is starting to move toward virtual reality (VR) as a new way to study attention and learning. We hope to compare standard computer-modulated category learning tasks to similar ones in virtual reality. This will help us further understand both how we allocate attention and how we develop expertise. There are lots of potential directions to take with VR...we are excited to explore the possibilities!