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Dr Volker Thoma (FHEA; FPsyS)

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Cognition and Neuroscience, Psychology

Dr. Volker Thoma's research topics are on fast and automatic (versus slow and controlled) mental processes in visual  attention, object recognition, face recognition, implicit memory, risk perception and decision making, human factors, and behaviour change. He is using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques (EEG, fMRI, eye-tracking, tCS). 

    Dr Volker Thoma FHEA FPsyS CPsych received an MSc (Dipl. Psych) from the University of Regensburg, Germany and worked as a Human Factors researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute of Applied Science (Stuttgart). His research interests are mainly in attention, recognition of objects and consumer items, judgment and decision making. He is using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to investigate the role of attention in object recognition (in collaboration with Alan Richardson-Klavehn, Magdeburg; John-Dylan Haynes & Philipp Sterzer (Humboldt University Berlin) and face perception (Jan DeFockert, Goldsmiths). He also investigates the role of heuristics in judgment and decision-making, in particular the in financial decisions (with Peter Ayton, City), and the center preference effect (with Dr Paul Rodway, Chester), as well as risk perception. A new project is using neuromodulation techniques (tDCS) to investigate judgment performance in visual recognition and decision-making (with Prof. D Rivolta, University of Bari, and Prof. M. Nitsche, Uni Dortmund).



    Fellow Higher Education Academy (FHEA)
    Fellow Psychonomic Society (FPsyS)
    Chartered Psychologist BPS (CPsych)
    Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts & Manufacturing (FRSA)

    External Examiner, Birkbeck College, Department of Psychology

    Honorary Treasurer, British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience

    Lecturer: European Summer School for Eye-Tracking (ESSEM)

    Overview

    Volker's research interests are mainly in visual attention, object and face recognition, and decision making. He is using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to investigate the role of attention in object recognition (in collaboration with Prof. John Hummel, University of Illinois; Alan Richardson-Klavehn, Magdeburg; John-Dylan Haynes & Philipp Sterzer, Humboldt University Berlin) and face perception (with Jan DEFockert, Goldsmiths). In particular, Volker's work found that spatially unattended objects can be processed without attention, in particular if objects are depicted in familiar views. He also recently showed that face perception is drawing on category-specific attentional resources. This means the capacity for face perception is limited only by the number of other faces (not other stimuli) present in a scene.

    A further interest concerns decision making and risk perception. One current project investigates heuristics and reflective thinking in experts, such as professional traders. A second line of inquiry looks at influences on consumer choice and preference, such as spatial location of products or the familiarity of brands, showing that items presented centrally are preferred over other positions in certain conditions (with Dr. Paul Rodway, Chester). In other research he showed that the familiarity of products or objects is a major determinant of preferential choice even in the context of negative information.

    Volker is a committee member and honorary treasurer of the British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience (BACN). He serves as the coordinator of UEL's UoA 4 (REF 2021) and committee member of the School's ethics committee.



    Human choice and preferences are susceptible to internal (thoughts, motivation) and external (instructions, environment) factors. The latter can be used in 'Choice Design', to nudge people into beneficial behaviour (e.g., eat more healthily). We are studying these factors, using research on heuristics (or mental shortcuts) an how they can be used in choice design. For example, we find that from items in an array (e.g. products on a super-market shelf) the middle one is often preferred - but this depends on some variables, such as valence (likeability), goals, and similarity.

    Rodway, P., Schepman, A., & Thoma, V. (2016). Reachability does not explain the middle preference: a comment on Bar-Hillel (2015; Position Effects in Choice From Simultaneous Displays: A Conundrum Solved. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(4): 419-433). i-Perception.1-5

    Kreplin, U., Thoma, V., Rodway, P. (2014). Looking behaviour and preference for artworks: the role of emotional valence and location. Acta Psychologica, 152, 00-108.


    Human decision making relies on different processes that are yet not fully understood. In our lab we study heuristics (mental shortcuts) in decision-making, and whether their use is determined by instructions, attention, or neural stimulation. We use eye-tracking and brainstimulation (tDCS) to study judgment and decision-making.

    Relevant publication:

    Thoma, V. & Williams, A. (2013). The devil you know: The effect of brand recognition and product ratings on consumer choice. Judgment and Decision Making. Vol. 8, 34 – 44.

     Thoma, V. White, E., Panigrahi, A., Strowger, V., Anderson, A. (2015). Good thinking or gut feeling?  Cognitive reflection and intuition in traders, bankers and financial non-experts. PLoS ONE 10(4):e0123202. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123202

    How does our brain pick out the visual information it needs or wants from the environment and ignore what is irrelevant? Volker Thoma’s research found that when perceptual load is high (e.g., many objects in a visual scene make it difficult to find an object, like your car in a full parking lot) then irrelevant information (e.g., a shopping trolley) is easy to ignore, because your attentional capacity is used up by scanning many cars. If perceptual load is low, you will find your car quickly, but it will be hard to ignore irrelevant objects. Surprisingly, this is not the case for faces – no matter how many cars in the parking lot, you will always process the face of someone there. It seems that face-capacity is category-specific – only if you look for a face among many faces will your visual system ignore another face.

    Thoma, V., & De Fockert, J.W. (2018). Three-quarter views of depth-rotated faces induce face-specific capacity limits in visual search. Experimental Psycholog, 65(6), 360–369. https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000421

    Thoma, V., & Lavie, N. (2013). Perceptual load effects on processing distractor faces indicate face-specific capacity limits. Visual Cognition, 21(8), 1053–1076.doi:10.1080/13506285.2013.853717

    Lavie, N., Zokai, N., Zhicheng, L., & Thoma, V. (2009). The role of perceptual load in object recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 35(5), 1346–1358. doi:10.1037/a0016454 

    A long-standing project in Volker Thoma’s research is the role of attention in object perception, and he found evidence that an object’s recognition is mediated by a hybrid representation (view-dependent and part-based) depending on whether a seen object receives visual attention or not. Brain imaging data (with Dr Rik Henson) indicate that while view-based representation components are found in ventral and dorsal object processing streams, part-based representations (depending on attention) appear to be limited to ventral processing areas in the brain. Crucially, both behavioural and imaging data find evidence for processing of objects without attention. Recent collaborations are with Prof John Dylan Haynes (Humboldt University, Berlin) and Prof. Alan Richardson-Klavehn (University of Magdeburg).

    Wakui, E., Thoma, V., De Fockert, J.W. (2016). View-sensitive ERP repetition effects indicate automatic holistic processing of spatially unattended objects. Neuropsychologia, 89, 426–436

    Guggenmos, M., Thoma V., Cichy, R.M., Haynes J-D., Sterzer P., Richardson-Klavehn, A. (2015). Non-holistic coding of objects in lateral occipital complex with and without attention. NeuroImage, 107, p. 356-363

    Thoma, V., & Henson, R.N. (2011). Object representations in ventral and dorsal visual streams: fMRI repetition effects depend on attention and part–whole configuration. NeuroImage, 57(2), 513–525. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.04.035


    Research

    Publically available research outputs are available to download from UEL's Research Open Access Repository

    Thoma, V. & Patsalos, O. (in press). Water Supplementation after dehydration increases judgment and decision-making performance. Psychological Research.

    Edgcumbe, D.R., Thoma, V., Rivolta, D., Nitsche, M.A., c, d, Fu, C.H.Y (in press). Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex enhances reflective judgment and decision-making. Brain Stimulation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brs.2018.12.003

    Weiss-Cohen, L., Ayton, P., Clacher, I., Thoma, V. (in press). Behavioral biases in pension fund trustees’ decision-making. Review of Behavioral Finance

    Jones, A., & Thoma, V. (in press). Determinants for successful Agile collaboration between UX designers and software develoeprs in a large organisation. International Journal of Human Computer Interaction

    Broyd, A., Ettinger, U., & Thoma, V. (in press). Thinking dispositions and cognitive reflection performance in schizotypy. Judgment and Decision Making

    Thoma, V., & De Fockert, J.W. (2018). Three-quarter views of depth-rotated faces induce face-specific capacity limits in visual search. Experimental Psychology, 65(6), 360–369. https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000421 

    Thoma, v., Ward, N., de Fockert, J.W. (2016). Misaligned and polarity-reversed faces determine face-specific capacity limits. Front. Psychol., 27 September 2016 http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01470

    Gosling, A., Thoma, V., DeFockert, J.W., Richardon-Klavehn, A. (2016). Event-Related Potential Effects of Object Repetition Depend on Attention and Part-Whole
    Configuration. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00478

    Wakui, E., Thoma, V., DeFockert, J.W. (2016). View-sensitive ERP repetition effects indicate automatic holistic processing of spatially unattended objects. Neuropsychologia, 89, 426-436

    Rodway, P., Schepman, A., & Thoma, V. (2016). Reachability does not explain the middle preference: a comment on Bar-Hillel (2015; Position Effects in Choice From Simultaneous Displays: A Conundrum Solved. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(4): 419-433). i-Perception.1-5

    Thoma, V. White, E., Panigrahi, A., Strowger, V., Anderson, A. (2015). Good thinking or gut feeling?  Cognitive reflection and intuition in traders, bankers and financial non-experts. PLoS ONE 10(4):e0123202. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123202

    Guggenmos, M., Thoma V., Haynes J-D., Richardson-Klavehn, A., Cichy, R.M., Sterzer P., (2015). Spatial attention enhances object coding in local and distributed representations of the lateral occipital complex. NeuroImage, 149–157. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.04.004.

    Stein, T.*, Thoma, V.*, Sterzer, P. (2015). Priming of object detection under continuous flash suppression depends on attention but not on part-whole configuration. Journal of Vision. 15(3):15, 1-11. (*equal contribution)

    Guggenmos, M., Thoma V., Cichy, R.M., Haynes J-D., Sterzer P., Richardson-Klavehn, A. (2015). Non-holistic coding of objects in lateral occipital complex with and without attention. NeuroImage, 107, p. 356-363.

    Kreplin, U., Thoma, V., Rodway, P. (2014). Looking behaviour and preference for artworks: the role of emotional valence and location. Acta Psychologica, 152, 00-108.

    Thoma, V. (2014). Face-specific capacity limits under perceptual load do not depend on holistic processing. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 21(6), 1473-1480.

    Thoma, V. & Williams, A. (2013). The devil you know: The effect of brand recognition and product ratings on consumer choice. Judgment and Decision Making. Vol. 8, 34 – 44.

    Thoma, V., & Lavie, N. (2013). Perceptual load effects on processing distractor faces indicate face specific capacity limits. Visual Cognition, 21(8), 1053–1076.

    Thoma, V., Henson, R.N. (2011). Object representations in ventral and dorsal visual streams: fMRI repetition effects depend on attention and Part-whole Configuration. NeuroImage, 57, 513-525.

    Thoma, V., White, E.P. (2011). In two minds about usability? Rationality and intuition in usability evaluation. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 6946, pp. 544–547.

    Lavie, N., Zokai, N., Zhicheng, L., Thoma, V. (2009). The role of perceptual load in object recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 35 (5), 1346-1358.

    Thoma, V., Williams, B. (2009). Developing and Validating Personas in e-Commerce: A Heuristic Approach. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 5727, pp. 524–527.

    Thoma, V., Davidoff, J., & Hummel, J.E. (2007). Priming of plane-rotated objects depends on attention and view familiarity. Visual Cognition, 15(2), 179-210.

    Thoma, V., & Davidoff, J. (2006). Priming of depth-rotated objects depends on attention and part changes. Experimental Psychology, 53(1), 31-47.

    Schott, B.H., Henson, R., Richardson-Klavehn, A., Becker, C., Thoma, V., Rotte, M., Heinze, H.J., & Düzel, E. (2005). Neuroanatomical Dissociation of Intention and Awareness in Implicit and Explicit Memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 1257-1262.

    Thoma, V., Hummel, J.E., & Davidoff, J. (2004). Evidence for holistic representation of ignored images and analytic representation of attended images. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 30 (2), 257-267.

    Non-peer-reviewed Journal Articles

    Thoma, V. (2010). [Review of the book On the origins of cognitive science: the mechanization of mind, by Jean-Pierre Dupuys]. History & Philosophy of Psychology, 12(1), 78–81.

     

    Book Chapters

    Thoma, V., & Dodd, J. (forthcoming). Eye-tracking in user experience research. In: U. Ettinger, C. Klein (Eds.). An introduction to the scientific foundations of eye movement research and its applications. Springer, Berlin.

    Thoma, V. (2013). Cognitive psychology. In R. Bayne & G. Jinks (Eds.), Applied psychology: current issues and new directions (pp. 198–212). London: Sage.

    Thoma, V., & Davidoff, J. (2007). Object recognition: attention and dual routes. In N. Osaka, I. Rentschler & I. Biederman (Eds.), Object recognition, attention and action. Tokyo: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-4-431-73019-4_10

    Nissler, J., & Thoma, V. (1999). Gestaltung von Software-Agenten aus Sicht des Benutzers. In U. Arend, E. Eberleh & K. Pitschke (Eds.), Software Ergonomie ’99 — Design von Informationswelten (pp. 215–226). Wiesbaden, Germany: Teubner Verlag. doi:10.1007/978-3-322-99786-9_20

     

    Publications

    Responsible Gambling Trust

    European Hydration Institute

    PhD Project: Neuromodulation of cognitive distortions in problem gambling

    Postgraduate research grant: “Decision-making and Hydration”

    £ 73,000


    € 5,000

    09/16-
    08/19

    02/15- 07/2016

    Amberlight Partners Ltd. (London)

    Decision-making and expertise in web development teams

    £ 4,300

    02/15- 05/2015

    UEL Teaching Fellowship (HEFCE)

    Grant for teaching related research and practice

    £ 10,000

    03/10 - 03/2012

    Eclipse Partners

    Research funding: Decision making in traders

    £ 20,000

    04/10 - 02/2011

    Promising Researcher Award (UEL/HEFCE)

    Research grant for a visit to the MRC Cognition& Brain Unit, Cambridge

    £ 6000

    03/06 - 08/2006

    Economic and Social Research Council ESRC

    PhD (3+1) Student Grant: “Electro-physiological correlates of object recognition”

    £ 80,000

    09/04 - 08/2008

    Central Research Fund University of London

    Small Research Grant: The Role of Attention in Object recognition

    £ 3,000

    05/01 - 09/2001

    Experimental Psychology Society (EPS)

    Research visit to the University of California Los Angeles

    £ 3,000

    03/03 - 09/2001

    Research Fellow DAAD (German Acad. Exchange)

    Research grant for a PhD research visit to the University of California Los Angeles

    £ 3,000

    03/00 - 09/2000

    Funding

    Programmes:

    BSc Psychology

    MSc Psychology

    Clinical Doctorate (Dissertation supervisor)

    Modules:

    PY  6308 - Psychology of Choice - Judgment and Decision-making (Module leader)

    PYM 7151 - Cognitive Psychology and Biopsychology (Module leader)

    PYM 7155 - Professional Psychological Studies (project supervisor)



    Teaching