PsychEng Seminar 2023 February 7: Prof. Dirk Bernhardt-Walther, U of T Psychology

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Room 2135, Bahen Centre
40 St. George Street

Prof. Dirk Bernhardt-Walther
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto

Like what you see? The role of aesthetics in the visual perception of complex environments.

Abstract: People have an inherent aesthetic preference for certain vistas over others. In fact, they will often go to great lengths in order to seek out or to avoid particular views. Hotel rooms with a view of the beach garner higher rates than rooms with a view of the parking lot, for example. Artists, architects and designers attempt to predict which views are aesthetically pleasing, using a combination of intuition and heuristic rules. Beyond aesthetic evaluations, people often have strong emotional reactions to scenes. Indeed, quickly scanning an environment to determine relative threat is an essential part of survival. I will present cumulative work from my lab that investigates the role of aesthetics in various aspects of visual perception and speculate on why the visual system has evolved a sense of aesthetics.

Biography: Following undergraduate studies in physics and computer science at the University of Leipzig, Germany, Dirk Bernhardt-Walther earned an M.Phil. degree in physics from the University of Cambridge, UK, in 1999 and a Ph.D. in Computation and Neural Systems with Christof Koch and Pietro Perona at the California Institute of Technology in 2006. After a brief postdoc with John Tsotsos at York University in Toronto, he became a Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There he worked with Diane Beck and Fei-Fei Li on natural scene perception and on decoding natural scene categories from fMRI data. From 2010 until 2014, Dr. Bernhardt-Walther was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at The Ohio State University. In 2014, he moved to the University of Toronto, where he is now Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Interim Director of the Toronto Neuroimaging Facility. He was a Visiting Professor at the Samsung Artificial Intelligence Center in Toronto from 2019 until 2020. Dr. Bernhardt-Walther’s research focuses on the neural mechanisms that underlie the perception of complex real-world scenes both in human and computer vision. Recent research interests include the cross-modal perception of real-world environments as well as visual aesthetics.

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