Mission Statement

The Visual Attention Laboratory (VAL) conducts experimental and theoretical investigations in order to better understand some of the bottlenecks in human visual information processing, especially as these pertain to people’s ability to visually attend to several things at once. The theoretical perspective behind this work is called the Visual Indexing Theory. This theory has broad application to many different phenomena involving visual perception and mental imagery.

This internship program is conducted under the supervision of Professor Zenon Pylyshyn.


General topic of the research

The experiments currently being carried out in this laboratory investigate the nature of visual attention and study people’s ability to split their visual attention among several objects or locations. One of the primary techniques used in this laboratory is called Multiple Object Tracking or MOT, a procedure which requires subjects to track several objects (the Targets) displayed on a screen which move randomly and independently among a set of identical moving Nontargets that must be ignored. Using MOT, we have shown that people can normally keep track of about four or five moving objects, even when they are mixed in with four other identical moving objects. This technique has proven useful for exploring a range of questions concerning human visual information processing. Over 20 papers have been published using variants of this method. In the present series of studies, we will examine certain factors that affect this ability. In particular, we will test a number of ideas concerning what limits the number of objects that can be tracked (to about 4 or 5).


Objectives of the Internship Program

The research internship program was designed to familiarize students with the steps involved in developing a research project, including:

  • Understanding the initial motivating ideas behind the research.
  • Suggesting a rough design for an experiment.
  • Taking part in the preparation of stimulus materials.
  • Participating in the design and execution of pilot studies.
  • Participating in the preparation of a draft design of a full study.
  • Participating in the process of tuning various parameters of the experiment by trying it out on themselves and other interns.
  • Participate in the execution of the experiment.
  • Participate in the analysis of data, which may lead to further studies.

To familiarize students with methods used to study human information processing – including the use of animated sequences, masking, or priming, and the measurement of reaction time, error rates, and other measures of skilled performance. The use of appropriate control conditions and baselines measures.

To familiarize students with the problems of discovering patterns in the data. This will involve learning about various methods of data summarization and statistical analysis tools. The importance of interaction effects and methods of stage analysis in testing theories. Guarding against speed-accuracy tradeoffs, response biases.

To provide practical experience in carrying out research projects, analyzing data, and writing up and presenting results in meetings (including experience in using specialized tools at each stage of this process).


Steps towards meeting these objectives

  • In order to benefit fully from the training opportunities that you will receive here in the lab, we require that all Rutgers University students make a commitment of one full academic year.
  • Research Interns (RI) will be trained in the use of laboratory techniques and methods. These methods and techniques will be used for studies that are currently fully designed and running, and for future studies that RIs are encouraged to develop on their own.
  • We also provide short courses on Excel, SPSS, PowerPoint, VisionShell, and the use of library resources.
  • Interns are expected to attend regular lab meetings, and to participate fully in the discussion, and to present at least one research article.


Tour of the Visual Attention Lab 

The Visual Attention Laboratory is located in the annex section of the Psychology building, room A132 on the Busch campus. Room A132 is where we have many informal laboratory meetings, prepare experiments, read articles, meet subjects, etc.


Some notes about the Lab

  • Where do things happen? – Experiments are run in room A132A, A136, and A130. Weekly meetings are held in the RUCCS playroom (A139) or the smaller LVR meeting room (A114). A map is reproduced in Appendix A and is available on line at: http://zeus.rutgers.edu/~feher/lvrmap1/lvr_ruccs.html
  • Work Stations – There are currently 10 computers for running experiments, analyzing data, writing reports, and exchanging emails. Four of these will be assigned to Research Interns. See Appendix B for a full description of equipment available for RIs.
  • Reprint Box – Reprints of articles relevant to research that is going on in the lab will be placed in the reprint box.
  • Cork Board – The corkboard contains all RI schedules, schedules for general psychology classes where subjects can be solicited (with permission from the professors in charge); subject sign-up sheets, directions for current experiments, and other pertinent information.
  • Laboratory web site is at: http://ruccs.rutgers.edu/val-home-page/



  • Recruiting and running subjects
  • Putting up signs, visiting classes with sign up forms (after obtaining permission from the professors).
  • Working with subjects
    • Informed consent documentation
    • Talking with the subjects, answering questions, and formal feedback.
    • Heading subject payments when appropriate


Attending lab meetings

  • General lab meetings are held weekly. Individual meetings between people involved in particular projects and the PI are held weekly on a different day from the general lab meetings. All members of the laboratory, including staff and interns, are expected to attend all schedule meetings.
  • Presentations at general lab meetings. Each lab member is expected to present a summary of a relevant research article at least once per semester. The presentation will summarize the main points of the article and its relevance to the work the student is conducting in the laboratory. Other lab members will also give periodic reports on the research projects on which they are working. Presentations will be done in PowerPoint


Readings and library research

  • Principal and secondary readings will be provided at the start of the Internship. The principal readings are general articles on the theme of the laboratory’s work and students are expected to have read them within a few weeks of starting their internship. Secondary readings will be placed in your mailbox as other lab members find articles that are relevant to the lab’s research interests.
  • Along with the resources of the Rutgers library, the secondary readings provide references for the student’s presentation and paper. Students are expected to become proficient in the use of the various library resources, including on-line materials.


Acquiring research related skills

  • Students are expected to acquire certain research-related skills and in some cases will be aided in this process by lectures given by staff and by the PI.
  • These include an appreciating the ethical issues in human research. Anyone who supervises the running of an experiment on human subjects is requiredto pass the Human Subject Certification Program, an online course required of individuals running experiments involving human subjects. This is a requirement imposed by NIH and by the Rutgers Internal Review Board.
  • Students will become familiar with a number of tools used in data collection and analysis, sufficient for using these tools (Though not necessarily for programming new experiments or analyses from scratch).
  • These may include:
    • The use of computer based experiment- running software, such as VisionShell, E-Prime, or Presentation. Optionally, students may also become familiar with the use of the ISCAN eye movement tracking equipment.
    • First-level knowledge of the use of tools for data-summarization, graphing, analysis, and presentation. These may include Excel, SPSS, PowerPoint, and other graphics software.


Other Things that you might be asked to do

From time to time, as time permits, interns may also be asked to carry out some additional work for the laboratory, such as:

  • Help maintain our database for research articles, including making Xerox copies of articles
  • Organizing a VAL library
  • Helping to maintain our web page


Your Schedule

In the first week of each semester interns will fill out an Excel spreadsheet indicating when they are free to work in the lab. Based on the available times a schedule will be worked out showing when each intern should be in the lab. It is important that this schedule be adhered to. If anyone needs to reschedule their committed time they must contact Amir at least two days in advance by calling 732-445-6163 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Of course, interns are free to come into the lab as often as they wish.

Gathering data on human subjects is a prime function of the laboratory. If you have made prior arrangements to run subjects, it is your responsibility to try to arrange for other members of the lab to take over for you in your absence.


Laboratory access

  • If you plan to get to lab early in the morning, staying late at night, or come in on the weekends then you will need outside door keys, and lab keys. If this applies to you please discuss this with Amir ASAP.
  • Please keep the doors to the lab locked at all times when there is nobody in – this is an essential security measure (computers have been known to disappear in the past).
  • If you are locked out of VAL and you cannot find an RA, a Post-Doc, or Zenon, please ask either Sue Consentino in A133 or Jo'Ann Meli in A129 to let you into the lab.


Evaluation and Credit

Evaluation of student’s work as an intern

  • Everyone intern is expected to take an active part in the regular lab meetings and to present his or her ideas on ongoing research       projects.
  • Interns will present an article at lab meetings.
  • Submit a final report that would form the basis for a paper or a poster or talk submitted to a national conference, such as the      Cognitive Science Society.
  • Evaluation via the Research Assistant Evaluation form (See Appendix C).


Getting Academic Credit for working in the lab

  • Research in Psychology course credit – get forms from Zenon or Sue Cosentino.
  • Honors Thesis in Psychology
  • Research in Cognitive Science course credit.
  • Minor in Cognitive Science research requirement.
  • Grading for Research in the Lab will be based on attendance, performance of assigned duties, participation in meetings, the Research Intern Evaluation form and the final report. The grading will be submitted as required by the university and will appear on letters of reference.
  • To obtain credit for a full Internship a student must spend approximately 120 hours in the laboratory over the summer and/or school term. Shorter periods can also be accommodated but, depending on departmental requirements, may not earn a research 3 course credit, unless additional work is done.



Appendix A


Appendix B

Equipment available to RI’s

The lab currently has 11 computers:

  • Dell PC computers, (at least 833 Mhz processor, 256 of RAM, 30 GB hard drive, and a 64 MP video card), with Windows 2000 OS, with Office 2000
  • 3 older PCs (at least 233 Mhz processor, 16 MB RAM, and 2 GB hard drive), with either Windows 98 or Windows 2000, with Office 98 or Office 2000 respectively.
  • 2 G4 Macs with 466 Mhz processor, 32 MB of RAM, 4 GB hard drive, and a 2MB video card, with Mac OS  9.0.4, with Office 2000.
  • 1 Power PC Mac and 1 Quadra Mac.
  • ISCAN Eye-tracking equipment, both head-mounted and table-mounted. All eye-tracking equipment is located in A130 and used jointly with the human-computer interaction laboratory (“The Village”). We are currently working on creating software to integrate the eye-tracking equipment with the experiment-running that we are using in the lab.



  • All of the programming with the Macs is done with VisionShell PPC 1.0, and the C programming is done with Code Warrior 6.0.
  • On the PC’s we are using E-Prime, Presentation, or Matlab with Psychophysical Toolbox


Data Analysis

First level data analysis, i.e., averages, t-tests, standard deviations are done with Excel. Full analysis of variance is done with SPSS. Interns need to know how to use Excel to summarize data and to construct charts and graphs.


Web Development

We are using Dreamweaver 4