Nicole Han receives her Ph.D.

Her dissertation advances the understanding of gaze perception

October 27, 2022
VIU Lab bbq celebrating various student/postdoc achievments for 2022
VIU Lab bbq celebrating various student/postdoc achievments for 2022

Congratulations to Nicole Han on successfully defending her dissertation thesis titled "Dynamic Gaze - Perception, Attention and Eye Movement Control".

Interpretation of where other people look (gaze direction) is an essential ability that allows humans to infer others' interests, intentions, and future actions. Although we have learned quite a bit about how gaze orients attention and eye movements, most studies use simple static images of gaze that do not incorporate the dynamics of head and body movements, the surrounding real-world contexts in scenes, and more ecological tasks.  Nicole's dissertation extends previous work to examine the influence of dynamic heads and bodies with ecological tasks. She studied how humans and a state-of-art AI model perceive gaze in real-world images. She showed that humans have a higher sensitivity to contextual information changes compared to the AI model suggesting a potential direction for developing future AI models with a better ability to integrate spatial context. Through several psychophysical experiments, she demonstrated the importance of head dynamics in orienting covert attention, microsaccades, and eye movements during visual search. In the last part of her dissertation, she focused on the understudied fine-grain control of eye movements during gaze following. She showed that observers use information in the visual periphery to execute predictive saccades that anticipate the information in the gazer’s head direction by 190-350ms. And she found that the brain simultaneously monitors moment-to-moment changes in the gazer’s head velocity to dynamically alter eye movements for optimal gaze-following. Together, the dissertation extends our understanding of gaze perception in real-life contexts and its impacts on observers’ covert attention, overt attention, and fine-grained eye movement control.   

Nicole has been a passionate and relentless researcher, having to dive into various subfields from microsaccades to deep neural networks in pursuit of scientific answers.  She has always been known in the lab for her generosity in sharing her knowledge and time with undergraduates and graduate students alike.  We would like her to stay for another 5 years with us and get a 2nd Ph.D., but the folks at ByteDance (Tik Tok's parent company), where she starts her new job, want her there later this month. We will miss her. Congratulations, Dr. Han!"