In 1859, the German physiologist Alfred Wilhelm Volkmann described an instrument—the tachistoscope—that soon became ubiquitous in psychology laboratories for studying learning, attention, and perception.
It displayed an image for a set period of time, making it easier to capture the reactions of people, and to learn about how humans reacted to stimuli: how they learned from what was being displayed to them, and how they perceived what was happening in the world around them.
Fast forward. Cognitive neuroscientists have expanded the science that was pioneered with this instrument and, in the late 1970’s, they were able to replace the famed tachistoscopeby the personal computer. Today’s students of the cognitive neurosciences take Matlab programming courses rather than woodwork and metalwork courses to study human behavior.
The connection between technology and behavior made in the last decades is a natural evolution for a better understanding of the human physiological processes. Today, these two fields are intimately connected together by the emergence of exciting and promising research fields such as human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence and cognitive science.
From the Kinect to speech and face recognition systems, A/B tests to the Facebook new testing button, intelligent air transport systems to online customer services, the use of the computer as a super tachistoscope has spread to consumer research. As a natural form of presenting visual stimuli, web applications have played an immense role in opening up new possibilities for cognitive research.
More recently, this combination of advanced cognitive neuroscience research and programming have led to the development of new digital products to increase audience engagement and monetization for either video (Neon Labs) or online digital advertising (Neurométric). They have also led to a wealth of knowledge about how exactly humans perceive visual stimuli, and how they perceive and learn from the world around them.
This is the power of technology. This is how computer science made studying us so much easier.