Tom Troscianko

Last updated

Tomasz Stanisław Trościanko
Tom Troscianko Ski-ing.jpg
Born(1953-01-30)30 January 1953
Munich, Germany
Died16 November 2011(2011-11-16) (aged 58)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Alma mater
Susan Blackmore
(m. 1977;div. 2009)
Scientific career
Fields Psychology

Tomasz Stanisław Trościanko (1953–2011) (Tom) was born in Munich, Germany, of Polish parents, Anna and Wiktor Trościanko. As a stateless child, aged nine, he travelled alone to England to attend Fawley Court Polish school in Henley-on-Thames. He studied Physics at the University of Manchester and a subsequent job with Kodak led to a PhD in optometry and visual science at City University, London. From 2000 onward he was Professor of Psychology, first at the University of Sussex and then at the University of Bristol, where he worked until his death in 2011. [1]



In 1970, after leaving school, Tom worked for British Steel as a lab technician before taking a degree in Physics at The University of Manchester. A job at Kodak led to his finding an enduring interest in colour vision and to studying for a PhD in optometry and visual science at City University, London, supervised by Charles Pagham and awarded in 1978 for a thesis entitled 'Factors affecting colour saturation'.

In 1979 he started a postdoctoral research position at the University of Bristol, where he worked for many years with Richard Gregory. For the year 1985–1986 Tom, his wife and young family, moved to Germany where Tom held a Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to work at the University of Tübingen Eye Hospital focusing on isoluminance (stimuli with the same luminance but differences in other visual properties) and its effects on the perception of form and motion.

He became a lecturer at the University of Bristol in 1991 and spent most of the rest of his career there. He taught and coordinated undergraduate and postgraduate courses on perception, psychobiology, the ecology of vision, current vision, and the psychology of climate change, and supervised or co-supervised 17 PhD candidates. He also worked at the IBM UK Scientific Centre in Winchester and in 2000 briefly held a chair at the University of Essex. Between 2000 and 2002 he was Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex. Returning to Bristol in 2002, he became Professor of Psychology in the Department of Experimental Psychology and founded the Cognition and Information Technology Research Centre (COGNIT), promoting an interdisciplinary approach to cognitive neuroscience. He was Principal Investigator on research grants from funders including the MRC, the BBSRC, and the EPSRC, and was a member of EPSRC Peer Review College. In 2007 he founded the Bristol Vision Institute. With Robert Snowden and Peter Thompson, he coauthored the textbook Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception; the first edition came out in 2006 and the second in 2012, soon after his death.

Personal life

In September 1977 he married psychologist Susan Blackmore. Their daughter Emily was born in 1982 and their son Jolyon in 1984. Using their children as experimental subjects, they devised a system called BabyTape which enabled babies to pull a cord to select which music they liked to listen to. The results showed that they preferred nursery rhymes to Status Quo. Tom and Susan were amicably divorced in July 2009.

For some years Tom lived on his narrowboat, Lancer, in the floating harbour in Bristol, opposite the quay where the replica of The Matthew was being built. Later he moved to a house near the University in High Kingsdown, and for the last five years of his life his partner was an artist, Carol Laidler, whom he had met, typically, in Amsterdam.


Tom's research interests were many and varied, ranging from colour vision in apes and birds [2] to artificial vision systems for CCTV cameras [3] to visual search in complex scenes, including for camouflage detection. He was particularly interested in the spatial and spectral properties of natural scenes in relation to the properties of biological systems, and in studying these interactions in species other than humans, in natural environments from the African rain-forest to Bristol's Leigh Woods. With Susan Blackmore, he contributed to the discovery of change blindness [4] and worked on why misjudgments of probability lead people to believe in the paranormal. [5] He was also involved in attempts to create a conscious robot with Iain Gilchrist and Owen Holland [6] (funded by the EPSRC Adventure Fund). Other collaborators, from many different fields, included C. Alejandro Párraga and David Tolhurst on computational modelling, [7] Katerina Mania on virtual reality, [8] [9] and Innes Cuthill and Julian Partridge on bird vision. [10] In the last year or so before he died, Tom had also become very interested in the area of empirical aesthetics, specifically with reference to the feeling of 'presence' as affected by factors like screen size when watching movies. [11]

He was chief editor of the journal Perception for nearly 20 years, and the driving force behind the launch of its open-access sister journal i-Perception. [12] He was associate editor of ACM Transactions on Applied Perception from 2004 until his death, and was long involved in the Applied Vision Association, becoming its secretary in 2003. A frequent and popular speaker at the European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP), he and Susan Blackmore organised its 11th meeting in Bristol in 1988. He was renowned for never taking the easy route to conferences but turning each trip into an adventure that might involve cars, trains, skis, his camper van, motorbike, and especially boats. A legacy he left to the Applied Vision Association was used to honour his contributions to vision science and particularly his extraordinary travels, by creating The Tom Trościanko Award [13] to support a student to travel to ECVP in a way that Tom would have enjoyed.

Captain Tom on his narrowboat.jpg


Tom Trościanko died of heart failure on 16 November 2011 in Amsterdam, on his way to give lectures in Germany.

TomFest , a celebration of his life and work, was held on 30 March 2012, [14] involving a boat trip around Bristol harbour, and a series of short talks by colleagues, students, friends, and family, followed by dinner, wine-tasting, and music at the University of Bristol's Wills Memorial Building.

On 2 September, a symposium on ‘Space, colour, natural vision, and conscious robots’ was held at ECVP 2012 in Alghero, Sardinia. The special exhibition, IllusoriaMente [15] (meaning both illusorily and the illusory mind), was dedicated to the memory of the late Professor Richard Gregory and the late Professor Tom Trościanko.

Related Research Articles

Illusion Distortion of the perception of reality

An illusion is a distortion of the senses, which can reveal how the human brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Though illusions distort our perception of reality, they are generally shared by most people.

A tactile illusion is an illusion that affects the sense of touch. Some tactile illusions require active touch, whereas others can be evoked passively. In recent years, a growing interest among perceptual researchers has led to the discovery of new tactile illusions and to the celebration of tactile illusions in the popular science press. Some tactile illusions are analogous to visual and auditory illusions, suggesting that these sensory systems may process information in similar ways; other tactile illusions don't have obvious visual or auditory analogs.

Out-of-body experience A phenomenon in which the soul (astral body) is said to exit the physical body

An out-of-body experience is an experience in which a person experiences the world from a location outside their physical body. An OBE is a form of autoscopy, although the term autoscopy more commonly refers to the pathological condition of seeing a second self, or doppelgänger.

Susan Blackmore British writer and academic

Susan Jane Blackmore is a British writer, lecturer, sceptic, broadcaster, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Plymouth. Her fields of research include memetics, parapsychology, consciousness, and she is best known for her book The Meme Machine. She has written or contributed to over 40 books and 60 scholarly articles and is a contributor to The Guardian newspaper.

Depth perception Visual ability to perceive the world in three dimensions (3D)

Depth perception is the visual ability to perceive the world in three dimensions (3D) and the distance of an object. Depth sensation is the corresponding term for animals, since although it is known that animals can sense the distance of an object, it is not known whether they "perceive" it in the same subjective way that humans do.

Peripheral vision part of vision that occurs on the edges of the field of vision

Peripheral vision, or indirect vision, is vision as it occurs outside the point of fixation, i.e. away from the center of gaze. The vast majority of the area in the visual field is included in the notion of peripheral vision. "Far peripheral" vision refers to the area at the edges of the visual field, "mid-peripheral" vision refers to medium eccentricities, and "near-peripheral", sometimes referred to as "para-central" vision, exists adjacent to the center of gaze.

Figure–ground (perception) humans ability to separate foreground from background in visual images

Figure–ground organization is a type of perceptual grouping that is a vital necessity for recognizing objects through vision. In Gestalt psychology it is known as identifying a figure from the background. For example, words on a printed paper are seen as the "figure," and the white sheet as the "background".

Ambiguous image An image which exploits graphical similarities between two or more distinct image forms

Ambiguous images or reversible figures are visual forms which exploit graphical similarities and other properties of visual system interpretation between two or more distinct image forms. These are famous for inducing the phenomenon of multistable perception. Multistable perception is the occurrence of an image being able to provide multiple, although stable, perceptions. Classic examples of this are the rabbit-duck and the Rubin vase. Ambiguous images are important to the field of psychology because they are often research tools used in experiments. There is varying evidence on whether ambiguous images can be represented mentally, but a majority of research has theorized that they cannot be properly represented mentally. The rabbit-duck image seems to be one of the earliest of this type; first published in Fliegende Blätter, a German humor magazine ; the My Wife and My Mother-in-Law drawing, which dates from a German postcard of 1888, is another early example.

Global workspace theory (GWT) is a simple cognitive architecture that has been developed to account qualitatively for a large set of matched pairs of conscious and unconscious processes. It was proposed by Bernard Baars. Brain interpretations and computational simulations of GWT are the focus of current research.

Richard Gregory British psychologist

Richard Langton Gregory was a British psychologist and Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol.

Illusory contours

Illusory contours or subjective contours are visual illusions that evoke the perception of an edge without a luminance or color change across that edge. Illusory brightness and depth ordering frequently accompany illusory contours. Friedrich Schumann is often credited with the discovery of illusory contours around the beginning of the twentieth century, however illusory contours are present in art dating to the Middle Ages. Gaetano Kanizsa’s 1976 Scientific American paper marks the resurgence of interest in illusory contours for vision scientists.

Emmert's law states that objects that generate retinal images of the same size will look different in physical size if they appear to be located at different distances. Specifically, the perceived linear size of an object increases as its perceived distance from the observer increases. This makes intuitive sense: an object of constant size will project progressively smaller retinal images as its distance from the observer increases. Similarly, if the retinal images of two different objects at different distances are the same, the physical size of the object that is farther away must be larger than the one that is closer.

Oliver John Braddick, is a British developmental psychologist who is involved in research on infant visual perception. He frequently collaborates with his wife Janette Atkinson.

Illusory conjunctions

Illusory conjunctions are psychological effects in which participants combine features of two objects into one object. There are visual illusory conjunctions, auditory illusory conjunctions, and illusory conjunctions produced by combinations of visual and tactile stimuli. Visual illusory conjunctions are thought to occur due to a lack of visual spatial attention, which depends on fixation and the amount of time allotted to focus on an object. With a short span of time to interpret an object, blending of different aspects within a region of the visual field – like shapes and colors – can occasionally be skewed, which results in visual illusory conjunctions. For example, in a study designed by Anne Treisman and Schmidt, participants were required to view a visual presentation of numbers and shapes in different colors. Some shapes were larger than others but all shapes and numbers were evenly spaced and shown for just 200 ms. When the participants were asked to recall the shapes they reported answers such as a small green triangle instead of a small green circle. If the space between the objects is smaller, illusory conjunctions occur more often.

Philip Kellman is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and the current Cognitive Area Chair in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also Adjunct Professor of Surgery in the David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine, and the founder of Insight Learning Technology, Inc, a company that applies perceptual learning, adaptive learning technology, and principles from cognitive science research to improve education and training. His research interests involve perception and visual cognition, specifically visual perception of objects, shape, space, and motion, and perceptual development. He is also an expert in perceptual learning, adaptive learning, and their applications to skill acquisition and educational technology.

Melvyn A. Goodale Canadian neuroscientist

Melvyn Alan Goodale FRSC, FRS is a Canadian neuroscientist. He was the founding Director of the Brain and Mind Institute at the University of Western Ontario where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Visual Neuroscience. He holds appointments in the Departments of Psychology, Physiology & Pharmacology, and Ophthalmology at Western. Goodale's research focuses on the neural substrates of visual perception and visuomotor control.

Laurence T. Maloney is an American psychology professor at New York University’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science. He is known for applying mathematical models to human behavior.

Janette Atkinson, is a British psychologist and academic, specialising in the human development of vision and visual cognition. She was Professor of Psychology at University College London from 1993: she is now Emeritus Professor. She was also Co-Director of the Visual Development Unit at the Department of Psychology, University College London and the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford. She is a frequent collaborator with her husband Oliver Braddick.

John S. Werner Human vision research scientist

John S. Werner is an American scientist who studies human vision and its changes across the life span. He is a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Davis in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, and Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. His work has been cited ~ 12,000 times.

Susan J. Lederman is a Canadian experimental psychologist. She is a professor emerita in the Department of Psychology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She is recognized for her contributions to the field of haptics.


  1. "Tom Troscianko, 1953–2011". Times Higher Education (THE). 15 December 2011. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  2. Lovell, P. G.; Tolhurst, D. J.; Párraga, C. A.; Baddeley, R.; Leonards, U.; Troscianko, J.; Troscianko, T. (1 October 2005). "Stability of the color-opponent signals under changes of illuminant in natural scenes". Journal of the Optical Society of America A. 22 (10): 2060–2071. doi:10.1364/josaa.22.002060. ISSN   1084-7529. PMID   16277277.
  3. Howard, Christina J.; Troscianko, Tom; Gilchrist, Iain D.; Behera, Ardhendu; Hogg, David C. (22 August 2013). "Suspiciousness perception in dynamic scenes: a comparison of CCTV operators and novices". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 7: 441. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00441. ISSN   1662-5161. PMC   3749488 . PMID   23986671.
  4. Blackmore, S. J.; Brelstaff, G.; Nelson, K.; Trościanko, T. (1 January 1995). "Is the richness of our visual world an illusion? Transsaccadic memory for complex scenes". Perception. 24 (9): 1075–1081. doi:10.1068/p241075. ISSN   0301-0066. PMID   8552459.
  5. Blackmore, Susan; Trościanko, Tom (1 November 1985). "Belief in the paranormal: Probability judgements, illusory control, and the 'chance baseline shift'". British Journal of Psychology. 76 (4): 459–468. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1985.tb01969.x. ISSN   2044-8295.
  6. "Owen Holland". Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  7. Párraga, C.A.; et al. (January 2000). "The human visual system is optimised for processing the spatial information in natural visual images". Current Biology. 10 (1): 35–38. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(99)00262-6. PMID   10660301 . Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  8. Mania, Katerina; Troscianko, Tom; Hawkes, Rycharde; Chalmers, Alan (1 June 2003). "Fidelity Metrics for Virtual Environment Simulations Based on Spatial Memory Awareness States" (PDF). Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. 12 (3): 296–310. doi:10.1162/105474603765879549. ISSN   1054-7460.
  9. Mourkoussis, Nicholaos; Rivera, Fiona M.; Troscianko, Tom; Dixon, Tim; Hawkes, Rycharde; Mania, Katerina (1 November 2010). "Quantifying Fidelity for Virtual Environment Simulations Employing Memory Schema Assumptions". ACM Trans. Appl. Percept. 8 (1): 2:1–2:21. doi:10.1145/1857893.1857895. ISSN   1544-3558.
  10. Stevens, Martin; Párraga, C. Alejandro; Cuthill, Innes C.; Partridge, Julian C.; Troscianko, Tom S (1 February 2007). "Using digital photography to study animal coloration". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 90 (2): 211–237. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2007.00725.x. ISSN   1095-8312.
  11. Troscianko, Tom; Meese, Timothy S.; Hinde, Stephen (1 August 2012). "Perception While Watching Movies: Effects of Physical Screen Size and Scene Type". I-Perception. 3 (7): 414–425. doi:10.1068/i0475aap. ISSN   2041-6695. PMC   3485833 . PMID   23145293.
  12. "i-Perception". Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  13. "AVA Tom Troscianko Memorial Award page". Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  14. Bristol, University of. "2012: Professor Tom Troscianko | School of Experimental Psychology | University of Bristol". University of Bristol. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  15. ECVP2012. "IllusoriaMente / Program / VSAC / ECVP2012 – ECVP 2012". Retrieved 21 November 2016.