Lauren Brande, (Porter, '11, psychology) won a best abstract award May 3 at the annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association in Reno.

The award was for her research into visual perception and included recognition at a plenary session and a $500 cash prize.  Brande conducted her research as a UCSC undergraduate along with Alec Munc (College Nine, '12, psychology), who is currently in graduate studies at San Francisco State University.

UCSC psychology professor Bruce Bridgeman, who worked with Brande and Munc, said the award is typically given in recognition of graduate research, but Brande won it for her research as an undergraduate.

Brande, who plans to continue her psychology studies at Boston University next year, found evidence for two kinds of "gist" in visual scenes. "Alec and I were curious about what constitutes the 'gist' of an image or scene because the literature so far has not defined or quantified it," Brande said.

She said they decided to try verifying a two-part definition of visual gist proposed by another researcher that differentiates between conceptual gist (the idea and semantic meaning behind an image or scene, for instance a beach), and perceptual gist (the actual visual properties that you perceive on your retina; such as colors, shapes, locations within the image). "We did this by looking at perceived image similarity," she said.

"We found that the ratings of image similarity were significantly higher for conceptual gist, implying that the idea behind an image or scene has a more powerful influence over perceived similarity, and possibly visual processing in general, than the actual visual properties," Brande said. "We hope that our findings may lead to a better understanding of why and how the brain assigns importance to visual input."