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UTSC student wins APA award for thesis on visual perception

Marta Wnuczko and her thesis advisor John Kennedy pose with an apparatus Wnuczko uses to measure visual perception.

When Marta Wnuczko was a child she had a picture on her wall of a tree-lined road receding into the distance, and was fascinated with the way the flat image could depict the three-dimensional world. That fascination eventually led to her work on visual perception.

Now Wnuczko’s dissertation has won the American Psychological Association’s Dissertation Research Award, the first time the award has been granted to a student at U of T.

“My research is about how we see space. I am especially interested in how vision uses th­­e geometry of space to give us the perception of the true dimensions of objects,” says Wnuczko, a PhD student in UTSC’s psychology department.

Although we make visual sense out of the world around us without conscious effort, it’s actually a complex process. Our brains use information in an image projected onto the flat retinas of our eyes and give us the perception of a complex, three-dimensional world.

Wnuczko’s work explains one part of the process -- how we perceive objects as they recede into the distance. If you are looking at a large plaza covered with square tiles, as the tiles recede into the distance they often look more rectangular -- the depth dimension diminishes more quickly than the width dimension.

What Wnuczko has shown is that people misperceive the true angles of foreshortened objects in a predictable way. In her thesis she is proposing that understanding this misperception helps us understand how the brain perceives depth.

Her thesis advisors are John Kennedy and Matthias Niemeier, UTSC professors of psychology who study perception. Kennedy is especially well-known for his work in how blind painters are able to use perspective, and Niemeier for how perception can be optimized.  


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