Expertise in music processing

Music expertise represents a good example of how experience fine tunes our perceptual skills. We are interested in tackling a number of interesting questions concerning visual and auditory perception in musicians. For example, how does expertise in reading musical notation differ from well-studied expertise in face and word perception? Why is the acquisition of absolute pitch so difficult, and how do absolute pitch possessors differ from those who do not have the ability? How do different parts of the multimodal music expertise network work together?

Representative papers:
Wong, Y.K., & Wong, A.C.-N. (in press). Music-reading training alleviates crowding with musical notation. Journal of Vision.

Wong, Y.K., & Wong, A.C.-N. (2014). Absolute pitch memory: Its prevalence among musicians and dependence on the testing context. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 21(2), 534-542.


Media and digital experience

Engaging in multiple media and tasks at the same time is one defining feature of the urban lifestyle nowadays. We have begun to explore the cognitive consequences of media multitasking, and found that this experience is associated with better detection and thus integration of information from multiple modalities (e.g., vision and hearing). We are now searching for ways to better characterize the types of media multitasking as well as other types of digital experience.

Representative papers:
Lui, F.H., Wong, A.C.-N. (2012). Does media multitasking always hurt? A positive correlation between multitasking and multisensory integration ability. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 19(4), 647-653.


Expertise in character perception across writing systems

Apart from faces we also develop expertise with other categories of objects. Letter and character perception is a good example as most of us viewing this website are frequent readers. One question is whether face and letter perception belong to the same type of expertise. Our behavioral and fMRI work show that letter perception is associated with different computational demands, behavioral phenomena, and neural selectivity patterns compared with face perception. Recent evidences further suggest that characters across languages with drastically different linguistic properties (e.g., English and Chinese) may share similar shape processing resources. Strangely, however, we found that a typical marker of face perception experiese, holistic processing, also occurs for perception and words and characters for experts in corresponding writing systems.

The implications are that (a) experience may play a role in selecting the brain substrates best suited to the processing demands associated with a certain object category; and (b) holistic processing may be a domain-general marker of perceptual expertise across domains.

Representative papers:
Wong, A.C.-N., Bukach, C.M., Hsiao, J., Greenspon, E., Ahern, E., Duan, Y., & Lui, K.F.H. (2012). Holistic processing as a hallmark of perceptual expertise for non-face categories including Chinese characters. Journal of Vision, 12(13):7, 1-5.

Wong, A.C.-N., Bukach, C.M., Yuen, C., Yang, L., Leung, S., & Greenspon, E. (2011). Holistic processing of words modulated by reading experience. PLoS ONE, 6(6): e20753.

Wong, A.C.-N., Jobard, G., James, T. W., James, K. H., & Gauthier, I. (2009). Expertise with characters in alphabetic and non-alphabetic writing systems engage the same occipito-temporal area. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 26(1), 111-127.

Wong, A.C.-N., Gauthier, I., Woroch, B., Debuse, C., & Curran, T. (2005). An early electrophysiological potential associated with expertise in letter perception. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 5(4), 306-318.


How experience changes our object representations

Different brain activity patterns have been observed for different categories of objects. The origins of this category selectivity in the object recognition has been a long-standing question. While past studies have shown that experience can change brain responses to objects, it is unknown whether patterns of selectivity for different categories are a result of different types of experience involved. We trained two groups of participants to perform subordinate-level individuation and basic-level categorization respectively with the same set of novel, artificial objects. While local activity increased in the fusiform gyrus after individuation training, categorization training resulted in a wide-spread change in the object processing cortex, with an increased emphasis on the medial relative to the lateral regions. Results provide support for the role of experience in deterining selectivity patterns for different categories in the object recognition system.

Representative papers:
Wong, A.C.-N., Palmeri, T.J., & Gauthier, I. (2009). Conditions for face-like expertise with objects: Becoming a Ziggerin expert – but which type? Psychological Science, 20(9), 1108-1117.

Wong, A.C.-N., Palmeri, T.J., Rogers, B.P., Gore, J.C., & Gauthier, I. (2009). Beyond Shape: How You Learn about Objects Affects How They Are Represented in Visual Cortex. PLoS ONE, 4(12), e8405.


Expertise in face perception

Almost no one would disagree that there is something special about face perception. Compared with most other object categories, face perception is highly efficient, and sophisticated as faces contain rich information about one's identity, gender, race, emotional state, intention, etc. Faces also seem to be processed in a unique way. For example, one tends to take all features and their spatial configurations into consideration and find it difficult to selectively attend to a single features. What people debate about face perception is what makes face perception special. In recent years a number of laboratory training studies have shown that hours of experience with discriminating novel, artificial objects can result in behavioral phenomena and brain activity similar to those found for face perception. By comparing multiple training regimens in a single study, we have gone a step further to show that not all types of experience would lead to face-like expertise. Training that requires subordinate-level identification seems to be the key for producing expertise markers similar to face perception. Other studies about face perception include the perceptual nature of holistic face processing, the flexibility in the use of holistic processing for experienced face drawers, and the neural basis of the own-race advantage.

Representative papers:
Zhou, G., Cheng, Z., Zhang, X., Wong, A.C.-N. (2012). Smaller holistic processing of faces associated with face drawing experience. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 19(2), 157-162.

Wong, A.C.-N., Palmeri, T.J., & Gauthier, I. (2009). Conditions for face-like expertise with objects: Becoming a Ziggerin expert – but which type? Psychological Science, 20(9), 1108-1117.

Richler, J.J., Cheung, O.S., Wong, A.C.-N., Gauthier, I. (2009). Does response interference contribute to face composite effects? Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 16(2), 258-263.


Object recognition across views

Object recognition is highly efficient across changes in viewing conditions in terms of size, location, viewpoint, etc. There are theories about the mechanisms under which experience with a limited number of viewpoints contibutes to successful recognition of an object across novel viewpoints. Yet the empirical experience in support of such theories are inconclusive. We used novel objects and exposed participants to either one or two viewpoints and then measured subsequent recognition performance at studied and novel views in a better controlled way compared with previous studies. Our results show that the advantage gained from the study of multiple views is more than the generalization from each of the studied views presented alone, and occurred only for interpolated views (i.e., novel views within the range spanned by the studied views). Our findings also suggest that the similarity between the novel and studied views is the key determinant of the degree of generalization. These findings provide more conclusive support to existing theories of view generalization.

Representative papers:
Wong, A.C.-N., & Hayward, W.G. (2005). Constraints on view combination: Effects of self-occlusion and difference between familiar views. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance, 31, 110-121.

Hayward, W.G., Wong, A.C.-N., & Spehar, B. (2005). When are viewpoint costs greater for silhouettes than for shaded images? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12, 321-327.


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Department of Psychology
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong

Tel: (852) 3943 6505
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Email: alancnwong et