Fiona Newell: How Everyday Multisensory Interactions Affect Aesthetic Responses


Our sensory systems interact to provide a robust representation of the world around us and to optimise our perception of the objects, people and places that occupy this world. The extent to which the senses interact to shape our preferences for certain stimuli over others is, however, relatively poorly understood.
In this talk I will discuss how our preferences might be shaped by general experiences with multisensory stimuli, and from the perceptual and cognitive processing of multisensory information. In particular, I will review recent behavioural evidence suggesting that perception benefits from multisensory inputs, and neuroimaging studies suggesting the underlying neural mechanisms supporting these interactions. Moreover, for some individuals, sensory stimulation in one modality can give rise to perceptual experience in another modality.
This condition, known as synaesthesia, can provide further insights into how the senses interact for everyday perception. Our research suggests that synaesthesia is supported by general perceptual mechanisms involved in multisensory integration, but that synaesthetes benefit from enhanced
processing of certain sensory information. Together these investigations help towards a better understanding of the perceptual basis of aesthetic responses.
Dr. Fiona Newell is Professor of Psychology at the Institute of Neuroscience in Trinity College Dublin. She leads the Multisensory Cognition Group that conducts investigations into perceptual function in humans. The goal of this research is to elucidate the brain and behavioural processes involved in the multisensory perception of objects, faces and scenes. Recently, this research has broadened into investigations of synaesthesia, as well as developmental processes in multisensory perception. Her research group has played a significant role in large international studies and has published in many of the leading academic journals. Newell obtained her Ph.D. in 1993 and was subsequently awarded an Addison-Wheeler Fellowship in Life Sciences from the University of Durham, UK. Following post-doc positions in the Weizmann Institute, Israel and Max Planck Institute, Germany, in 2000 she joined the School of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin. In 2006 she became a Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, and in 2008 a Professor of Psychology.