Welcome back to our cogbites interview series, where we interview cognitive scientists by asking them a few questions about their interests in science and what keeps them engaged both in and out of the lab.
As a reminder, you can learn a little about our team of contributors by reading their bios (either on our author page or at the bottom of each post), but this is a chance to get to know some early-career scientists even better. Our last interview was with Ava Ma de Sousa, a cogbites’ contributor and Master’s student at the University of Amsterdam.
This week we interview another one of cogbites’ own contributors, Monique Crouse. Monique is a third year PhD student at UC Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on how people learn to attend to relevant information in their environment, particularly when they interact with technology.
Monique has been contributing to cogbites since last fall, when she first wrote a post about the “inhibition of return” phenomena. Monique has actually been involved in research on this topic herself, which you can read more about here. You can read all cogbites posts by Monique here.
Without further ado, here’s our interview with Monique:
Why did you decide to pursue cognitive science?
Monique: Deciding to pursue cognitive science does not have a single deciding moment for me. Every stage of my life has led me to where I am today. Perhaps a better question is, “why do I choose to pursue cognitive science?”
What a person learns to attend to is actively shaped and selected based on their past experiences and expectations. When expectations are violated, this results in slower performance and sometimes leads to gaps in a person’s visual awareness and memory. Not only do I find this idea fascinating, but it also has important implications and consequences for how humans interact with computer interfaces. Digital interfaces can present information in a multitude of forms and they are able to dynamically change either due to updating or adaptive assistance. Cognitive psychologists and user experience (UX) researchers are vital in discovering how information should be presented to optimize learnability and usability for productivity interfaces (e.g., Microsoft Word) as well as how to optimize training presentation for safety critical interfaces such as in nuclear control rooms. This unique combination of scientific discovery and technological innovation are what drives me to pursue cognitive psychology.
What are you currently working on?
Monique: My most recent project investigates how different training cues, such as those found in augmented reality (AR) training programs, impact selective attention and subsequent human performance. Digital interfaces have the ability to dynamically provide attentional cues such as arrows, brightly colored boxes that enclose the object, or pictures of the object. Digital cues can be less helpful than one might first think and training with AR cues can cause trainees to perform tasks worse compared to training without them. I am investigating how different types of cues may cause trainees to focus on different aspects of a display and ultimately impact their task performance.
What’s the most interesting concept in cognitive science?
Monique: For me, the most interesting topic is finding new ways to define selective attention. For decades, selective attention was defined by two processes: Bottom-up processes that are involuntary or saliency-based, and top-down processes that are voluntary or goal-based. Recently, this dichotomy was called into question for its inability to account for growing evidence that one’s past experiences implicitly biases attention in a manner that is neither top-down nor button up. This idea is termed selection history. Understanding the unique mechanism of selection history is still being explored with interesting and sometimes conflicting results depending on the context. The concept of implicitly learned attentional biases is particularly important for real-world applications of visual search from medical professionals learning how to scan x-ray images to everyday iPad users searching for app icons.
What sparked your interest in science communication?
Monique: I have a passion for sharing science with the general public and the next generation of scientists and innovators. Since 2012, I have passionately supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach. I am currently co-president of WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) at UC Santa Cruz, an organization that aims to advance women in STEM fields.
One of my personal goals is to promote psychology in STEM and, in general, to promote science as a way of asking questions. STEM outreach and communication often contain only topics from traditional science categories, namely chemistry, physics, and biology. Viewing science as a limited set of topics unfairly limits young scientists who, like me, desire to research the full spectrum of questions life has to offer. I am excited to be a part of cogbites and to share recent scientific discoveries with others so I can spread awareness of psychology as a science and to inspire young minds.
Is there anything else you want us to know about you?
Monique: In my outreach work, I also make a point to express that scientists are people too who have a life outside of academic work. In my free time, I enjoy crafting (sewing/cosplay, crochet, knitting, etc.), baking, and playing Dungeons and Dragons/video games. I am currently enjoying playing Stardew Valley, Pokemon Shield, and Celeste.
Monique made this dragon for her sister-in-law for Christmas a few years ago. Her advice when attempting this pattern: Be careful when sewing the legs! The pieces are very small and it’s easy to accidentally make two same side legs. You can find the pattern here: Simplicity 8715 dragon sewing pattern.