International Symposium on Aviation Psychology

Dr. Charles Spence

Oxford University

Charles’ research looks at the role of attention in multisensory perception, including sensory perception of food.

Much of his work involves the investigation of multisensory illusions such as the ‘rubber hand illusion’. He is also interested in investigating how our understanding of multisensory perception can be used in a consumer psychology setting to improve the perception of everyday objects.

He supervises research in other applied settings, such as studying the attentional limitations on our ability to talk on a mobile phone while attempting to drive a car and the temporal processing of information, and the synchronization of sensory signals.

Of particular relevance to food is his work on vision and chemical senses, which asks the question: do we just smell or taste what we see? The main goal of this project is to understand the interactions between vision and odour and taste perception, and in particular, investigating the influence of colour on odour and taste perception, and the level of processing where any crossmodal integration may occur.

He works with chefs including Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, and with Ferran Adria’s research kitchen in Spain. He is currently doing projects with the Paul Bocuse cookery school in Lyon, France, and with young and up-and-coming chefs such as Charles Michel in Bogota, Colombia.

Charles Spence is the head of the Crossmodal Research Lab at Oxford University. His research on multisensory experiences has laid the foundation of knowledge for neuroscientists, leading to numerous applications of his research in experience design. Spence’s findings have changed the way we approach the objects that surround us, the environment we live in, and the ways in which we interact, because, as he explains, “the reality is, you cannot consider vision without also considering hearing; tasting without also thinking about smelling.” People are hungry for experiences that stimulate their senses simultaneously.

Spence is particularly interested in the everyday applications of psychology and neuroscience. For example, his interest in gastronomic experiences led to his famous “sonic crisp” experiment, where he found that playing a crunch sound at varying volumes could alter an individual’s perception of whether a chip was stale or not. Spence’s exploration of the interplay and combination of varying sensorial inputs, what he calls “sensploration,” can lead to an enhanced experience that allows us to perceive the world in different ways. Our capacity for sensploration then opens up possibilities for the ways in which marketing, design, and product development can be used to influence consumer behavior.