Advisory Board

Dr. Romi Nijhawan

The New York Times article Anticipating the Future to “See” the Present said

In the current issue of the journal Cognitive Science, researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Sussex argue that the brain’s adaptive ability to see into the near future creates many common illusions.
“It takes time for the brain to process visual information, so it has to anticipate the future to perceive the present,” said Mark Changizi, the lead author of the paper, who is now at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “One common functional mechanism can explain many of these seemingly unrelated illusions.” His coauthors were Andrew Hsieh, Romi Nijhawan, Ryota Kanai, and Shinsuke Shimojo.
In an experiment originated by Dr. Nijhawan, people watch an object pass a flashbulb. The timing is exact: the bulb flashes precisely as the object passes. But people perceive that the object has moved past the bulb before it flashes. Scientists argue that the brain has evolved to see a split second into the future when it perceives motion. Because it takes the brain at least a tenth of a second to model visual information, it is working with old information. By modeling the future during movement, it is “seeing” the present.

Romi Nijhawan, MA, MSc, PhD is Reader in Psychology, University of Sussex.
Romi is interested in the flash-lag effect and its implications for the interaction of the animal with the environment. The flash-lag effect occurs when observers view a moving object a part of which is briefly flashed. Observers see a “break” between the moving part and the flashed part, with the flashed part appearing in a lagging position.
Romi has the honor of publishing the first paper (in 1994) to mention the term “flash-lag effect”, and starting intense research activity on this topic. Professors Schlag and Schlag-Rey (2002) of UCLA School of Medicine have described the proposal in this 1994 paper as one of the “most-daring proposals… with bold disregard for the venerable”.
Since 1994, Romi and colleagues have shown that the flash-lag effect occurs for changing (non-moving) visual stimuli, during eye-movements, and most recently for voluntary limb movements in total darkness.
The flash-lag paradigm has been successfully used to investigate topics such as: color vision, visual attention, visual masking, perceptual filling-in, and forward models for motor control. Effects of sporting experience, alcohol, age, and dysfunction of the nervous system are in the process of being investigated with this method.
Romi authored Motion extrapolation in catching, Neural delays, visual motion, and the flash-lag effect, Visual decomposition of colour through motion extrapolation, and The flash-lag phenomenon: object motion and eye movements, and coauthored Changing objects lead briefly flashed ones, The role of attention in motion extrapolation: Are moving objects “corrected” or flashed objects attentionally delayed?, Extrapolation or attention shift?, Grouping based on phenomenal similarity of achromatic color, and Analogous Mechanisms Compensate for Neural Delays in the Sensory and the Motor Pathways Evidence from Motor Flash-Lag.
Romi earned his MA at Punjab University, India; his MSc at Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA; and his PhD at University of California, Berkeley, USA. He was a Postdoc/Research Associate at Cornell University, New York, USA and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), USA.
Read Colors Composed By Brain, Not Eyes.