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Project: Spatio-temporal mechanisms of generative perception

Principal investigator: David Burr

Host Institution: University of Florence, Italy

ERC Funding €2.5 million for five years, from July 2019

Most of us believe that what we see, hear and perceive is an instantaneous and veridical representation of the world, derived solely from the sensory input impinging on our eyes, ears and other senses. Indeed, this simple, mechanistic view is shared by many neuroscientists.

GenPercept challenges this idea, aiming to show that much of what we perceive is “hallucinated”, generated by our own brains. On this view, perception becomes a process that actively creates meaningful percepts, and tests these against the incoming sensory data, updating them as necessary. GenPercept will study this novel approach to perception, and unravel the neural mechanisms subserving generative perception. Its approach is intrinsically multi-disciplinary, combining state-of-the-art behavioural, neuro-imaging and computational techniques.

GenPercept has also a clinical aspect, studying the perception of autistic individuals. Autism – and autistic personality traits within the typical population – is associated with different perceptual styles, showing less weighting on generative perceptual processes. The project will test high-functioning autistic participants, with the dual aim of using different perceptual styles to understand typical perception, as well as gaining insights into autism.

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