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Françoise Vitu

PhD in Cognitive Psychology (1990)

Director of Research at CNRS,
Co-Head (with E. Castet) of the Perception and Attention group at LPC



I work in the field of active vision. I am interested in determining the mechanisms and mental processes that underlie the movements of our eyes in natural perceptual tasks. I specialized in the domain of eye movements in reading and my interests are therefore tightly linked to those of psycholinguists. However, within my approach, reading remains primarily a tool or framework to investigate the interactions between low-level visual extraction processes, higher-level cognitive processes and oculomotor processes associated with saccade programming.

In the past, several authors and myself identified recurrent eye movement patterns in reading; we refer to these as regularities or universals of eye guidance. These robust phenomena characterize the eye movements of adult and children readers. They were found in several languages including English, German and French. And quite surprisingly, they were shown to generalize to mindless reading (or the scanning of lines of z-letter strings), thus suggesting that they are independant of language-related processes.

Based on these and other findings, I proposed the hypothesis that eye movements in our everyday life, whether during reading or scene viewing, are primarily determined by fondamental/universal visuo-motor principles. Over the last years, I therefore developed a new line of research aimed at determining these fundamental principles, based on the study of the behavioral correlates of the neural mechanisms involved in saccade programming and visual processing. This work at the intersection of the psychology and computational neurosciences of vision and oculomotor control, relies on the parametric study of the properties of saccades in a wide range of tasks and for a wide variety of visual stimuli (from dots to ellipses, words and objects). In a long term run, my goal is to develop an ecologically-valid model of active vision that accounts for eye movements in reading as much as scene perception.

Another research topic that I started to work on several years ago, relates to the role of attention in visual perception. The question arises naturally when we think of observers facing visually complex natural scenes and texts. On every eye fixation, information from adjacent objects or words simultaneously stimulates the retina. Is information processed all at once in parallel, but within the limits of visual acuity, or is it processed sequentially with the help of selective attentional processes? Our first results in the reading domain favour a parallel and competitive view for the processing of adjacent words.