Mihaela Taranu

Research Interests

Stimuli (images, sounds, etc.) that make our perception unstable (i.e., at one point you see/hear something and after some time your perception changes surprisingly) have attracted considerable attention at all times. In the last years, social media has spread many examples of how our perception switches between different interpretations of the same stimulus. People talked a lot about the ‘blue/black versus white/gold dress’ or about ‘Yanny/Laurel’ (Lafer-Sousa, Hermann, & Conway, 2015; Watson, 2018).

These phenomena (beside being surprising and fascinating) highlight some important and long standing scientific research questions such as why do people perceive stimuli in different ways or how individual differences in the ability to perceive different interpretations emerges? 

Perceptual multistability is a useful tool for investigating the neural correlates of perceptual awareness without stimulus confounds; people switch between different perceptions of the same unchanging sensory signal. Moreover, the abilities to explore multiple ways of parsing the sensory scene and to flexibly switch between alternatives are thought to be prerequisites of cognitive flexibility, creativity, imagination, and perspective taking (Bialystok & Shapero, 2005; Wiseman, Watt, Gilhooly, & Georgiou, 2011).

In my PhD thesis, I primarily explored to what extent visual and auditory multistable perception share common or different mechanisms (cognitive/neural). I also explored to what degree there are individual differences in perceptual switching behaviour and whether there are associations with executive functions, creativity or personality. Finally, I investigated whether these mechanisms are manifested similarly in adults and children to determine whether/how perceptual switching is affected by developmental factors.

The first set of experiments investigated the effects of level of processing and modality on the switching rates in both visual and auditory multistable stimuli. Similar tasks were investigated with children in order to understand age-related differences in switching rates. Finally, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation was used to investigate to what extent superior parietal cortex is involved causally in both visual and auditory multistability. Results of these experiments have been published in my PhD thesis and two articles (See Publications list below).

Background

Research Experience

I am a psychologist with a PhD in psychology (University of Plymouth), MSc in mental health and human development (Babes-Bolyai University) and BSc in psychology (Babes-Bolyai University). Both my masters and bachelor degrees were research- and taught-based providing me theoretical knowledge and practical skills in various psychological fields including developmental and cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, genetics, clinical psychology, experimental research methods, statistical analyses.

 

Publications (peer-reviewed)

  • Taranu, M., Wimmer C.M., Denham, S., Farkas, D., Winkler, I., van Ee (2019). Executive functions and creativity effects on visual and auditory bistable perception in 6, 8, 10-year old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 184, 123–138, DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2019.03.010
  • Denham, S.L., Farkas, S., van Ee, R., Taranu, M., Kocsis, Z, Wimmer, M., Carmel, D., Winkler, I. (2018). Similar but separate systems underlie perceptual bistability in vision and audition. Nature Scientific Reports, 8:7106, DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-25587-2
  • Taranu, M., Loesche, F. (2017). Spectres of ambiguity in divergent thinking and perceptual switching. Avant, Vol. VIII, DOI:10.26913/80s02017.0111.0012
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  • Straeubig, M., Hsu, C.-W., Oztop, P., & Taranu, M. (2016). (How) Does Play Matter? A Transdisciplinary Approach to Play and its Re- lation to Neurobiology, Creativity and Deception. In M. Punt, S. Denham, & E. Doove (Eds.) (pp. 215–231). Off the Lip Conference - Transdisciplinary Approaches to Cognitive Innovation, Plymouth.
  • Taranu, M. (2013). How Does Physical Space Influence the Novices’ and Experts’ Algebraic Reasoning? Journal of European Psychology Students, 4(1), 37-46. DOI:10.5334/jeps.ax
  • Taranu, M. (2013). The impact of dierent kinds of training on accuracy responses in a novel mathematical system, Procedia–Social and Behavioural Sciences, 78, 76-80. DOI:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.04.254
 

Conferences (peer-reviewed)

  • Taranu, M., Wimmer, M., Denham, S., Farkas, D., Winkler,I., van Ee, R. Executive functions and creativity effects on visual and auditory bistable perception in 6, 8, 10-year old children. Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, Texas, US. 2017. POSTER
  • Taranu, M., Winkler, I., van Ee, R., Farkas, D., Wimmer, M., Denham,S.L.,Carmel,D. Searching for the role of the parietal cortex in visual and auditory multi stability. 20th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2016. TALK
  • Devue, C., Carmel, D., Taranu, M., & Grimshaw, G. TMS investigation into the role of the left and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortices in control of emotional distraction. 6th Annual Meeting of the Australasian Cognitive Neuroscience Society. 2016. POSTER
  • Taranu, M., Wimmer C.M., Denham, S., Farkas, D., Winkler, I., van Ee, R., Ross, J. Effects of modality and processing level in visual and auditory perceptual bistability. 19th conference of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCOP), Paphos, Cyprus. POSTER
  • Taranu, M., Wimmer, C.M., Denham, S., Farkas, D., Winkler, I., van Ee, R., Ross., J. Effects of modality and processing level in visual and auditory perceptual bistability. School of Psychology Postgraduate Conference, Plymouth, UK. TALK
  • Taranu, M., Wimmer, C.M., & Denham, S.L. Domain generality/specificity in the number of perceptual switches and phase durations in bistable visual and auditory stimuli. Donders Discussion Conference, Donders Institute, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. POSTER
  • Taranu, M., Ionescu, T. The impact of different kinds of training on accuracy responses on a novel mathematical system. International conference Psychology and the realities of the contemporary world, Bucharest, Romania. POSTER
  • Taranu, M., Ionescu, T. Does physical space influence more the novices’ than the experts’ algebraic reasoning? International Conference of Psychology Students Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 2011. TALK

Public Engagement

 

Education

Plymouth University 2014-2018
PhD in Psychology
Thesis: Commonalities and differences in visual and auditory multistability

Babes-Bolyai University, Romania, 2011-2013
MSc Human Development and Mental Health (pass with Distinction, highest degree mark in the course)
Dissertation: Mathematical cognition and embodied cognition (Cognitive and developmental psychology)

Babes-Bolyai University, Romania 2008-2011
BSc Psychology (1st Class Honours)
Dissertation: Mathematical cognition and embodied cognition (Cognitive and developmental psychology)

   

Skills

Statistics and data processing: RStudio, Spss, Jasp, Excel
Computer usage: Daily use of Microsoft Office, Outlook, Evernote, EndNote, Overleaf
Design (posters, images, stimuli) and sound processing:  Omnigrafle, Gimp, Praat, Audacity