Currently I belong to the laboratory of Professor Masami Yamaguchi of the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Letters. The Yamaguchi Laboratory has published a great deal of research on infants' perception (especially vision) and been performing a wide range of experiments, including behavioral and brain measurement experiments based on physiological indicators. I have been interested in human consciousness since my undergraduate days. I was wondering why individuals would feel differently even if they see or hear the same thing. At that time, based on the knowledge I gained from books and papers concerning consciousness, I thought that I might be able to approach the mystery of human consciousness if I examine brain activities. Fortunately, for my undergraduate thesis, I was able to conduct brain measurement experiments using the near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) method targeted at infants. I found the actual experiments very inspiring and enjoyable, but, at the same time, I realized that there was a limit to elucidating consciousness just by examining brain activities. This is because, even if a brain field is activated after looking at something, we cannot tell why a person could see the object or why such a sensation occurred. This is the most difficult part of studying consciousness, and from this experience, I realized that performing brain measurements alone is not enough to study consciousness.
Therefore, after entering graduate school, I decided to study consciousness from a different angle. I chose to investigate the developmental process of visual attention, which is my current research theme. "Attention" in my study means the mental process of selecting only necessary information from various information coming from sensory organs (such as eyes and ears) and excluding others. Some types of attention can be controlled by oneself and others cannot. The attention that can be controlled is called top-down attention, and it means consciously focusing on specific information. On the other hand, uncontrollable attention is called bottom-up attention. For example, this type of attention can be seen in a situation where a motorcycle suddenly jumps out from the side while driving and the driver automatically and unconsciously pays attention to the motorcycle. In general, we intuitively feel that our consciousness is made up of our attention, but that is not always the case. Even if we do not pay attention to all the information we can see, we are unconsciously augmenting the information without missing. As such, attention and consciousness are closely related, but whether attention is required for consciousness or not is a hot area that is still being discussed. Furthermore, developmental process of attention is not yet known, and whether even infants who cannot verbally communicate recognize the world like adults or not is a mystery. I am conducting my research based on the idea that by investigating the mechanism of attention from development perspectives, I may be able to simultaneously elucidate the process of emergence of consciousness. Recently, the number of studies to examine consciousness by combining electroencephalogram and behavior are increasing, and I have decided to measure electroencephalogram in addition to behavior to study consciousness.
In the Yamaguchi Laboratory, researchers can dedicate themselves to research since the laboratory conducts infant research as a team and therefore there is no need for individual researchers to seek infants for experiments and prepare gratuity for participants. Furthermore, Professor Yamaguchi attentively provides guidance for academic conference presentations and paper submissions, so I was able to fill in the achievement column when submitting documents to apply for JSPS fellowship. The fact that I had many opportunities for presenting my studies since my undergraduate and master's times has a significant impact not only on the preparation of documents, but also on my current research activities.
Among visual attention, I am currently researching the attentional functions of infants especially during rapid serial visual presentation. Rapid serial visual presentation means that multiple images (such as landscape photos) are presented continuously at the same position at approximately 0.1 second intervals. The images are presented for only a fraction of the time, and many more are presented in succession. So, when asked what each image was, it is impossible to answer everything exactly. However, we can instantly find a predetermined image, such as a face, from a variety of images, and even answer whose face that is. This is probably because attention is quickly focused on the target, and only the necessary information is processed efficiently by turning the attention quickly to the target. There are many unknown areas in the developmental process of such temporal aspects of attention. Our recent research has shown that infants around the age of seven months can find faces in images presented in 0.1 seconds, as adults do, and recognize who they are. This is only the beginning stage of my research. Nevertheless, it indicates that the tasks commonly used in adults (rapid serial visual presentation) can be applied to infants, and it is expected that this will expand the scope of research on perceptual and cognitive development. In the future, I hope to elucidate the developmental processes of attention that have only been examined among adults one by one in the course of rapid serial visual presentation, and to shed some light on the mysteries of human consciousness through attention.
My doctoral program has just begun. At the same time, I am conducting this research just midway to the goals I desire to achieve. I would like to continue researching passionately what I am interested in without being conceited of my current situation.