Past and upcoming PsychEng seminars

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ExperienceSampler: Enabling Experience Sampling Methods with Open-Source Tools

Professor Elizabeth Page-Gould, quantitative behavioral researcher, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto; Canada Research Chair in Social Psychophysiology

Date: Thursday, 16 November, 2017
Time: 2–4 pm
Location: MC331 (5 King’s College Road)

Experience sampling is a research methodology used to study daily life. Daily experiences are “sampled” by having people complete short surveys or tasks at random times throughout the day, typically following one person for a couple of weeks. While experience sampling methods offer a powerful and rich alternative to other approaches, these studies are traditionally very resource-intensive. My lab sought to enable both ourselves and the scientific community to use experience sampling methods by developing ExperienceSampler, which creates smartphone apps that implement experience sampling studies.

ExperienceSampler is a scaffold that integrates multiple open-source toolkits to create native apps for iPhone and Android, and thus it is free to use and further develop. In this talk, I will provide a high-level overview of how to create your own ExperienceSampler app and present some data that highlights the interesting things you can learn with experience sampling methods.

Some Thoughts and Questions about Designing Moral Machines

Professor Jason Plaks, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto

Date: Thursday, November 23, 2017
Time: 2-4 pm
Location: Sidney Smith Hall Room 2120

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are coming; numerous companies are developing computer-controlled, self-driving transportation for personal and commercial use. In theory, this development should lead to reduced traffic congestion, reduced fatalities, and better environmental outcomes. However, there are subtleties of human behavior that may be difficult to program a priori. This is especially the case when the vehicle has to make a moral decision (e.g., sacrifice one person to spare the lives of multiple other people). How should AVs be programmed in such  cases? In this talk/discussion, I will (a) raise some of the key moral issues identified by the literature on moral psychology; (b) review recent studies measuring the public’s reluctance to embrace AVs; (c) review recent studies from my lab that may speak to improving the public’s attitudes toward AVs; and (d) solicit the audience’s suggestions for the programming of non-human moral decision makers.

Socially Assistive Robots for Activities of Daily Living and Cognitive Interventions

Dr. Silas Franco dos Reis Alves, post-doctoral fellow, Autonomous Systems and Biomechatronics Laboratory (ASBLab)

Date: Thursday, November 30, 2017
Time: 2-3:30 pm
Location: Sidney Smith Hall Room 4043

Now more than ever, robots are seen as a unique strategic technology that will become an important part of society. One main motivation for incorporating intelligent robots into society is our increasing elderly population. Globally  we  are facing severe demographic challenges due to a low population growth rate coupled with an aging population.

This talk will present some of our recent research efforts in developing intelligent assistive robots for the elderly and their integration into health monitoring, and social and cognitive interventions. The potential impact of  these robots to our health and  elderly care programs is significant as they address two important healthcare challenges: 1) the significant increase in the number of people that need care, and 2) the existing shortage of resources in both hospitals and care  facilities.

The ability of such  robots to autonomously provide cognitive and social stimuli, guidance, and support, and serve as general assistance to individuals as well as groups of users will be discussed. Socially assistive robots can assist in therapeutic  interventions and provide assistance with activities of daily living for people suffering from cognitive impairments, and they can also aid in preventing depression and improving vital signs via their social interaction capabilities.

Studies conducted during  human-robot interaction  scenarios with the autonomous human-like assistive robots Brian, Tangy, Casper and Leia developed by my team in the ASBLab ( will also be discussed.

Cognitive Mechanisms in Creative Thinking

Professor of Psychology Steven M. Smith, Texas A&M University

Date: Friday, December 8, 2017
Time: 10:30-11:30 am
Location: MC 102

Creative designs arise from the minds of humans, the results of what cognitive psychologists have called “creative cognition.” A collection of mental or cognitive mechanisms can collaborate in myriad ways to produce creative ideas, including creative design. These mechanisms include divergent production, structured imagination, conceptual combination, analogical transfer, abstract thinking, visual synthesis, cognitive restructuring, and intuitive guiding, to name a few such mechanisms. An assortment of these cognitive mechanisms will be explained and discussed, particularly within the framework of experimental studies of creative cognition.

PsychEng Overview, Design Fixation, Functional Fixedness and Design for Pro-Environmental Behavior

Professor Li Shu, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto; Director of Collaborative Specialization in Psychology and Engineering (PsychEng)

Date: Thursday, February 15, 2018
Time: 12-2 pm
Location: Sidney Smith Hall Room 4043

Dr. Shu will be starting this term’s PsychEng seminars by giving an overview of the Collaborative Specialization in Psychology and Engineering (PsychEng CS), which is currently being expanded to include PhD students.

Next presented will be the research the ShuLab is doing on overcoming design fixation and functional fixedness, or being overly influenced by a limited set of ideas in design. The ShuLab’s other work aims to design products that enable and encourage Pro-Environmental Behaviors in people. This work has incorporated concepts from social psychology, and is open to other psychological concepts.

Please RSVP:

Human-in-the-loop vehicle simulation with an emphasis on control and training

Professor Peter Grant, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies

Date: Thursday, March 8, 2018
Time: 12:30-2 pm
Location: Sidney Smith 560A

Pilot Training, and in particular training in flight simulators, is a multi-disciplinary field that is ripe for cooperative research involving psychologists, engineers, neuroscientists and others.  Most of today’s commercial aviation pilot training is done in a virtual world (a flight simulator) with the intent that it transfers well to the real world. Unfortunately, just about all the cues in the simulator differ from those in the real world and the impact of those differences on transfer of training are still the subject of debate and research. This talk will focus on a number of simulator fidelity projects that the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies vehicle simulation lab has been involved with that are of particular interest to psychologists. The impact of gravito-inertial motion cue fidelity on human-in-the-loop control, motion perception, and ultimately transfer of training will be discussed. In addition, the talk will cover some recent work on upset recovery training that is of particular interest due to upcoming changes to the regulations for pilot training. While the training is mandated to start in the near future the impact of the training is still hotly debated.

Please RSVP:

Plants, carbon dioxide, indoor air and psychology

Professor Jeffrey Siegel, Civil Engineering, University of Toronto; Building Engineering Research Group

Date: Thursday, April 5, 2018
Time: 12:30-2 pm
Location: Sidney Smith 560A

Plants, carbon dioxide, indoor air and psychology Exposure to contaminants indoors is the largest environmental hazard for most Canadians.  However, indoor air quality, especially private indoor air quality, is largely unregulated and ignored.  Globally, there are many researchers addressing technical aspects of indoor air: sources, fate and transport, air cleaning, and ventilation are all vibrant areas of research.  Most research on indoor air quality is focussed on pollutant concentrations and the health effects that result from those exposures.  There are also very important effects that affect well-being, productivity, decision-making, and learning that have received much less attention.This presentation focuses on two specific examples: the role of carbon dioxide in decision-making (e.g., Satish et al., 2012, Environ Health Persp.) and the role of plants on occupant perceptions (e.g., Nieuwenhuis et al., 2012, J. Exp. Psych) with the overall goal of exploring collaborations between indoor environmental quality and psychology researchers.