Dr. Chloe Callahan-Flintoft

ARL Research Explores Visual Attention Span

Jan. 6, 2020
With an eye towards better use of wearable electronic devices, ARL research is exploring how well and how fast the brain processes visual inputs.

Wearable electronic devices are playing increasingly important roles in medical and healthcare applications and soon will be vital tools for U.S. Army troops. Studies being performed by the Army Research Laboratories (ARL) are exploring human cognitive mechanisms to better understand how wearable devices can serve soldiers in different applications. 

Among the researchers, Dr. Chloe Callahan-Flintoft works with ARL’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate through an Oak Ridge Associated Universities Fellowship, with an eye towards joining ARL full-time. “I realized a lot of the problems I was interested in were highly applicable to tasks soldiers face—such as how to strike a balance so that you are staying on task, like searching for a target, but not setting such rigid attentional filters that you don’t see unexpected events,” she said.

Callahan-Flintoft has studied how humans process sensory inputs, in particular visual data, in both time and space and has developed a conceptual framework to represent the cognitive mechanism. As with other animals, humans rely on sensory data to develop reactions for different situations, although the rain can only process so much data simultaneously, including visual inputs across time and space. The ARL studies and Callahan-Flintoft are investigating how the human brain reacts in speed and accuracy to different visual events, almost as a form of “visual attention span”. They seek to find limits to sensory data processing and realistic responses to captured data, including from wearable electronic devices such as infrared (IR) and optical cameras. As Callahan-Flintoft explained: “Our environments present the human visual system with an abundance of changing information. To meet processing constraints the brain must select and prioritize some pieces of information over others.”

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