The curious origins of animate attention

Humans naturally pay attention to other animate agents in their environment, a prosocial behavior that has been documented as early as a few weeks. What internal mechanisms give rise to this behavior? A standard hypothesis is that the human brain has a built-in module that specifically detects animacy from visual input. Yet we find evidence that animate attention naturally arises from a more general process of curiosity driven learning. This work utilizes a threeD environment that we created for model and human testing (using VR), as well as real-world robot setups. 

  • De Freitas, J., Kim, K. H., Haber, N., Conwell, C., Alvarez, G. A., & Yamins, D. L. K. Intrinsic curiosity may give rise to animate attention. Journal of Vision

  • Kim, K. H., Sano, M., Haber, N., De Freitas, J., & Yamins, D. L. K. Learning to attend with progress-based intrinsic motivation. Under review. 

  • Various authors. ThreeDWorld: A Platform for interactive multi-modal physical simulation. Under review. 

Visual inferences for moral cognition

How are people able to rapidly make social inferences about the visual world around them? We find that it may be because the visual system rapidly makes surprisingly abstract inferences, e.g., about causality and agency, which can immediately inform social cognition without need for further cognitive computation.

  • De Freitas, J., & Alvarez, G. A. (2018). Your visual system provides all the information you need to make moral judgments about generic visual events. Cognition, 178, 133–146. 

  • De Freitas, J., Hafri, A., Alvarez, G. A., Yamins, D. L. K. From pixels to moral judgment: Extracting morally-relevant information in minds and machines. Journal of Vision

Temporal perception and attention

This work studies the 'units' of temporal attention, and the role that the eyes play in tracking occluded features within imagination. 

  • De Freitas, J., Liverence, B., & Scholl, B. J. (2014). Attentional rhythm: A temporal analogue of object-based attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 71–76. 

  • De Freitas, J., Myers, N. E., & Nobre, A. C. (2016). Tracking the changing feature of a moving object. Journal of Vision, 16(3), 1–21. 

Other papers

  • De Freitas, J., Anthony, S. E., Censi, A., Frazzoli, E., & Alvarez, G. A. (2019). Doubting driverless dilemmas: Towards falsifiable tests for autonomous systems. PsyArXiv. 

  • De Freitas, J., Rips, L., & Alvarez, G. A. (2019). The limit of personal identity. PsyArXiv.