AVA Awards Recipients Report - Nick Hedger

Geoffrey J. Burton Memorial Award

With support from the AVA Cambridge Research Systems travel award, I attended the Vision Sciences Society (VSS) annual meeting at St Peter's Beach in Florida.

I am currently in my fourth and final year of my PhD and so VSS presented an important opportunity to network and showcase my research on a large platform. This was my third visit to VSS – a conference I have come to look forward to at the end of term time, when my teaching responsibilities are reduced. Knowing that you are presenting at an important conference provides you with an important deadline and motivation to push projects along to completion- again this is vital for someone who will receive their last cheque in a month or so!

I presented work from two chapters of my thesis (one meta analysis and one empirical chapter). Both investigate the extent to which threatening stimuli receive a processing advantage in the absence of awareness. My co authors were my two supervisors – Professor Wendy Adams and Dr Matthew Garner (Southampton, UK) and Dr Katie Gray (Reading, UK). Our meta-analyses revealed that evidence for threat sensitive processing that operates without awareness is weak and undermined by a number of methodological issues. The empirical chapter converged on a similar idea – we found that threatening stimuli only receive a processing advantage when observers are fully aware of the stimuli, but not when they are rendered invisible by backward masking or continuous flash suppression.

My oral presentation was part of the session titled “attention – reward and motivation”. I was initially quite nervous about presenting – this was the culmination of three and a half years work and the conclusions were quite controversial and “against the tide”. That said, I am very pleased to say that I received good feedback from a number of audience members after my presentation. A colleague also informed me that my talk had been praised on twitter! Presenting on such a large platform gave me a flavour of the broad interest people seem to have in the topic (even though the session was late, it was well-attended) and I now feel more confident about pushing the empirical chapter towards publication (I am currently on a second draft).

Away from my session, I used the opportunity to attend a number of poster and oral sessions relevant to my interests: including face perception, binocular vision and visual awareness. I also attended a very interesting mini-session on individual differences. All talks were only 3 minutes long and so only presented essential details and take home messages – an ideal primer on the topic. I also attended a workshop on applying for postdoctoral funding, which, although geared towards US funding bodies, still provided useful pointers for someone at my career stage.

In sum, the conference was an invaluable and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I am therefore grateful to the AVA and Cambridge Research Systems for helping me attend this conference.