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Department Faculty

Dirk Bernhardt-Walther

My research program explores how people perceive complex visual scenes. When people encounter a complex scene, such as a busy street, they almost immediately know it is a street scene. But recognizing the details, such as the cars, pedestrians, or trees, requires scrutinizing the scene area by area, object by object. In other words, people can tell it is a street well before they can identify most of the objects in the scene. My research explores both aspects of scene perception. How do people come to recognize scenes at a glance, what information do they use, and how are scenes represented in the brain? And how do they scrutinize a scene to understand its details, what are the underlying mechanisms, and how can we use this knowledge practically? To do so, I adopt an interdisciplinary approach drawing on methods from perceptual psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and engineering, and using techniques ranging from behavioral testing to neuroimaging (fMRI), computational modeling, and computer vision.

Dirk obtained a Ph.D. in Computation and Neural Systems at the California Institute of Technology, working with Christof Koch on modeling visual attention and object recognition. After a few months with John Tsotsos at York University in Toronto Dirk became a Beckman Postdoctoral Fellow at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There he worked with Diane Beck and Fei-Fei Li on natural scene perception and on decoding natural scene categories from fMRI data.

Selected Publications

Dirk B. Walther, Barry Chai, Eamon Caddigan, Diane M. Beck, and Li Fei-Fei (2011), Simple line drawings suffice for functional MRI decoding of natural scene categories, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA

Vo LTK, Walther DB, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Boot WR, et al. (2011) Predicting Individuals' Learning Success from Patterns of Pre-Learning MRI Activity. PLoS ONE 6(1): e16093. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016093

Dirk B. Walther, Eamon Caddigan, Li Fei-Fei, and Diane M. Beck (2009), Natural scene categories revealed in distributed patterns of activity in the human brain, Journal of Neuroscience, 29(34):10573–10581.

Barry Chai*, Dirk B. Walther*, Diane M. Beck, and Li Fei-Fei (2009) Exploring Functional Connectivity of the Human Brain using Multivariate Information Analysis, Neural Information Processing Systems.

Bangpeng Yao, Dirk B. Walther, Diane M. Beck, and Li Fei-Fei (2009) Hierarchical Mixture of Classification Experts Uncovers Interactions between Brain Regions, Neural Information Processing Systems.

Dirk B. Walther and Li Fei-Fei (2007) Task-set switching with natural scenes: Measuring the cost of deploying top-down attention. Journal of Vision, 7(11):9, 1-12.

Dirk Walther and Christof Koch (2006) Modeling attention to salient proto-objects, Neural Networks, 19(9): p. 1395-1407.

Dirk Walther*, Ueli Rutishauser*, Christof Koch, and Pietro Perona (2005) Selective visual attention enables learning and recognition of multiple objects in cluttered scenes, Computer Vision and Image Understanding, 100: 41-63.

(* indicates equal contribution)


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