Frequently Asked
Questions

What is the Perception Census?

The Perception Census is a new scientific study exploring the unique ways we each experience the world around us. It is the first major citizen science project investigating perceptual diversity, and it is led by world-leading academics Professor of Neuroscience Anil Seth from the University of Sussex and Professor of Philosophy Fiona Macpherson from the University of Glasgow.

This ground-breaking study is part of the acclaimed Dreamachine programme. The study is made up of games, illusions and brain teasers that explore how you perceive sound and time, how your senses work together, how your imagination works, and much more.

By completing the study, you will learn about your own powers of perception and help our team of scientists and philosophers uncover why, and how, we all experience the world in our own unique ways.

Who is running the Perception Census?

The study is led by world-leading academics Professor of Neuroscience Anil Seth from the University of Sussex and Professor of Philosophy Fiona Macpherson from the University of Glasgow. It is overseen by Professor Anil Seth’s team at the Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex (for the full team, see here https://perceptioncensus.dreamachine.world/team). It is produced and managed by Collective Act as part of the acclaimed Dreamachine programme: https://dreamachine.world/about. Dreamachine includes an immersive live experience that toured the UK this summer and will soon be presented internationally, a UK-wide schools programme reaching millions of young people aged 7-13, and the Perception Census.

The Perception Census has received ethical approval from the University of Sussex (project reference number is ER/ANILS/5). For more information on this approval, please contact: perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk.

Who is the Perception Census for, and what are you hoping to find out?

The Perception Census is a new citizen-science study exploring the unique ways we each experience the world around us. Anyone over the age of 18 can take part, anywhere in the world. Its goal is to uncover the fascinating but invisible ways that our minds are each unique – addressing questions that have baffled, and divided, philosophers and scientists for centuries. It is a unique exercise in citizen-science and aims to be the largest study into perceptual diversity ever undertaken.

Developed by a team that includes scientists, philosophers and artists, the Perception Census consists of engaging, fun, easy and quick-to-complete online experiments and interactive illusions. As well as contributing valuable data, participants can learn about their own powers of perception and how they relate to others. Importantly, the Perception Census goes beyond visual perception, exploring sound and music, emotions and how we experience the passing of time – among many other things.

Bringing to light our inner diversity could be as transformational for society as recognition of our externally visible diversity has been. Unlike the concept of neurodivergence, which tends to be reserved for specific conditions, perceptual diversity applies to all of us. There is no single way of perceiving the world against which others can be compared, and found wanting. With your help, the results could transform our understanding of how and why we each experience the world in our own unique way.

You can read more about the research ambitions of the programme from Professor Anil Seth’s recent article in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/oct/03/the-big-idea-do-we-all-experience-the-world-in-the-same-way

How is the Perception Census linked to the Dreamachine experience?

The Perception Census is produced and managed by Collective Act as part of the acclaimed Dreamachine programme. Dreamachine also includes an immersive live experience based on stroboscopic light that toured the UK this summer and will soon be presented internationally, and a UK-wide schools programme reaching millions of young people aged 7-13 years.

As a programme, Dreamachine aims to explore the potential of the human mind and the unique ways we each experience the world. The Dreamachine immersive experience unfolds behind your closed eyes, created by the power of your own brain and completely personal to you. After the experience, you are invited to reflect, share and visualise what you saw, how you felt and what it meant to you. The incredible stories from our audiences this year can be found in our online library of reflections: https://dreamachine.world/drawings/

As well as being beautiful acts of creativity, these reflections are also valuable research material. They help map, and make visible, the invisible – the diversity of patterns, colours, shapes and emotions that people experience from the same sequence of just white light. Browsing through the library, you will see many similarities, as well as many differences – revealing what connects us all, as well as what makes us unique.

This feedback, together with the findings and insights from the Perception Census, will help our research team paint a fascinating portrait of human consciousness –  exploring why certain people have certain experiences in the Dreamachine, and how this may relate to other aspects of their perception. No such study has been undertaken on this scale, and findings from the programme will provide a unique body of scientific and philosophical research that will be valuable to the fields of neuroscience, philosophy, anthropology and psychology for years to come.

What aspects of perceptual diversity and neurodiversity are you exploring?

A unique feature of the Perception Census is that it explores many different aspects of how we experience the world. There are 10 different sections, each focusing on a different aspect of perception. Everyone is invited to complete the Fundamentals of Perception section, which provides a broad overview of many forms of perception including vision, sound, and time. The remaining sections dig deeper into these different aspects, covering topics such as music, emotion, body and beliefs, and much more. A good example of the kind of perceptual differences we are interested in is synaesthesia. People with synaesthesia experience what’s commonly described as a ‘mixing of the senses’: tastes may have shapes, or written text may evoke experiences of vivid colours. We’ll be looking at the prevalence of different types of synaesthesia, and the relationships between synaesthesia and other aspects of perception.

Altogether, the results from the Census will allow us to understand how people vary in many different ways of experiencing the world. We will also use the data to identify common factors that may underlie these variations: for example, it might be that the degree to which peoples’ expectations shape their perception could explain many aspects of how they experience the world. The Perception Census will provide a unique resource for asking – and answering – important philosophical and scientific questions like this – which explore some of the most fundamental aspects of our lived human experience.

By inviting as many people as possible to take part, the Perception Census aims to explore the differences in perception that likely exist among all of us. This exploration of ‘perceptual diversity’ provides a different emphasis from the concept of ‘neurodiversity’, which has tended to be reserved for specific ‘neurodivergent’ conditions, such as autism, or ADHD. Results from the Perception Census will allow us to better understand how neurodivergent conditions relate to the variations in perception that apply to all of us.

Who made the Perception Census?

The Perception Census was created by a unique collaboration of scientists, philosophers, engineers, and developers. It is led by neuroscientist Professor Anil Seth (University of Sussex) and philosopher Professor Fiona Macpherson (University of Glasgow). They work with the core science team of Dr. Reny Baykova, Dr. David Schwartzman, Dr. James Alvarez, and Mr Trevor Hewitt (all University of Sussex), supported by engineers and developers from Collective Act Ltd. The science team are also collaborating with a wide international network of researchers to develop specific components of the census. For full details of the team behind The Perception Census, https://perceptioncensus.dreamachine.world/team

When will you share the results?

Early results from the Perception Census will be released by the end of 2022. The Perception Census will be open into 2023, and as a major piece of research, the findings will be assessed over a 3-year period between 2023 and 2025. With support from Leverhulme Trust, the University of Sussex and the University of Glasgow, two dedicated PhD students will analyse the data sets generated by the Dreamachine Programme, conducting new studies to assess and corroborate their findings – leading into a major body of work on the nature of perception. We are continuing to seek funding and investment in the research outcomes from all Dreamachine research strands to support this 3-year programme to analyse and publish our findings. The findings from the study will provide a unique body of scientific and philosophical research that will be valuable for years to come.

How can I take part in the ongoing research?

If you are an academic or researcher interested in collaborating with our team on the research findings and their potential applications – please contact:  perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk

How do I take part?

Sign-up and complete the Census from your desktop or laptop computer (the Census will not work on tablets or mobile phones). If you sign-up from your mobile phone you can return later to take part from a computer. The Perception Census is divided into 10 sections which each explore different topics, such as colour, sound and music, and time perception. You can choose which sections you would like to complete, and can complete as much or as little as you’d like. You will have your own user account so that you can log back in at any time.

The first section is the Fundamentals of Perception. Once completed, you will unlock a further nine sections. Complete all the sections and you will receive a completion certificate from the University of Sussex.

With your help, this will be the largest study of its kind and, if enough people take part, the results could transform our understanding of how and why we each experience the world differently. So far, participants in over 100 countries have contributed, including the USA and Canada, Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Singapore, South Africa and many countries across Europe – on every continent except Antarctica!

How long will it take?

The Fundamentals of Perception is the core element of the Census, and takes around 20 minutes to complete. Once you have completed this, you will unlock a further nine sections covering a range of topics, from time, to music, to imagination. Each section ranges in length from 15 to 30 minutes.

You can complete as many, or as few, sections as you like. The more you complete, the more valuable your answers will be to our research team. There’s no need to do everything in one sitting, you will have your own user account that you can log into at any time, and be able to track your own progress.

After you finish each section, we will reveal a little bit about the science behind the activity, what we are hoping to learn from your participation, and for some of the tasks, how your answers compare and contrast to others.

What do I need to take part?

You need to be aged 18 or over, and we’ll ask you to provide some demographic information in order to create a user account.

You will need to have access to a desktop or laptop computer. If you choose to take part in audio based tasks your device will need to have audio. We recommend that you complete the Perception Census in a dark or dimly lit room so that you can see the materials as clearly as possible.

A lot of the activities include audio or video. If you are blind or visually impaired, or if you are deaf or have hearing loss you will be able to specify this when setting up your user account. This will ensure you are provided with activities that are accessible to you.

What will I find out or learn about myself by taking part?

At every moment our senses are taking in information from the world around us. Our brains then make sense of that information to give us a picture of how the world looks, sounds and feels. Perception is the process by which the brain interprets sensory information to create this picture. Because we all have different brains, we are all likely to perceive the world in different ways.

By taking part in The Perception Census, you will learn about your own powers of perception, and help our team of scientists and philosophers uncover why, and how, we all experience the world in our own unique ways. Through the tasks and questions we explore, you’ll discover how your brain creates an experience that is unique to every one of us.

After you finish each section, we will reveal a little bit about the science behind the activity, how your answers compare to others and what we are hoping to learn from your participation.

Is there further information if I want to learn more? Where can I see my answers/results?

After you finish each section, we will reveal a little bit about the science behind the activity, what we are hoping to learn from your participation, and for some of the tasks, how your answers compare and contrast to others.

If you have a question about any aspect of the Perception Census or the topics we are exploring, you can pose the question directly to our team of researchers from the University of Sussex and University of Glasgow on the ‘Ask the Experts’ forum. You can also see questions from other people, and vote for your favourites. The Ask the Experts forum can be found on your Perception Census dashboard once you’ve signed up to take part.

If you have a question you would like to ask before taking part, please contact: perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk

If you would like to learn more about any of the topics the Perception Census explores, we recommend you browse our range of articles, books, podcasts and interviews on the Discover section of the Dreamachine website: https://dreamachine.world/discover/

You can read more about our research team’s work and research interests here:

Do I get a certificate if I complete all the tasks?

The first section of the Perception Census is the Fundamentals of Perception. Once you have completed this, you will unlock a further nine sections, including sound and music, emotions, and how we experience the passing of time. Complete all the sections and you will receive a completion certificate from the University of Sussex.

If you have completed all the sections but have not received your certificate, please contact: hello@collectiveact.co.uk.

What measures have you taken to ensure this is accessible?

To design the Perception Census, we worked closely with a range of focus group participants to gather their feedback to ensure the development of the platform catered for a wide audience range. Many of the interactive tasks include audio or video. If you are blind or visually impaired, or if you are deaf or have hearing loss you will be able to specify this when setting up your user account. This will ensure you are provided with tasks that are accessible to you.

If you have a question about the accessibility of the platform, or any feedback that would be useful to help us improve the experience in future, please contact: hello@collectiveact.co.uk.

Why can’t I do this on my tablet/ phone? – when will I be able to do that?

The Perception Census is currently only designed for desktop or laptop computers. This is due to the activities the Census explores, which have been rigorously designed by our scientific team to ensure that they are consistent across browsers and computer devices, as well as with previous studies exploring similar topics, to allow the results to be compared and contrasted. This consistency is important to ensure the scientific validity of the research findings.

We are currently exploring an adapted tablet based version of the Census, which is likely to be launched in mid 2023. To hear more about this when it is released, please sign up to our mailing list: https://dreamachine.world/sign-up/

Who can I contact for more information or to provide feedback?

If you have a question you would like to ask before taking part, please contact: perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk

If you have a question about the topics explored in the Perception Census, you can post your question in the Ask the Experts forum where researchers from the University of Sussex and University of Glasgow will get back to you. You can also see questions from other people and vote for your favourites. The Ask the Experts forum can be found on your Perception Census dashboard once you’ve signed up to take part.

If you have any feedback that would be useful to help us improve the experience, or have experienced any technical challenges in taking part, please contact: hello@collectiveact.co.uk

If you do experience a technical issue completing the Perception Census, it is very useful if you can share screenshots of any error messages or formatting problems, along with any details about your browser and device, so that our technical team can quickly assess and fix the issue.

How will you use my data, and how will it be stored?

How will you use my data, and how will it be stored?

Your responses to the questions and tasks in the Census will help us build a map of the different ways we each experience the world through our senses. It will help us see how some traits and experiences relate to others, and by revealing this, will shed new light on the way our brains and bodies interact to build our overall experience of the world.  In any publications of our research findings, all data will be presented in a fully anonymised form .  The Perception Census is at a scale of participation that allows meaningful conclusions and findings to be drawn from the aggregation of anonymised individual responses.

When you sign up, you will be asked to provide your email address so that we can send you a link to your data. This will enable you to visit the Perception Census on repeated occasions, and so that we can contact you in the future. All information collected about you, including demographic information and your responses in the Perception Census will be kept strictly confidential and securely stored by the University of Sussex and handled in accordance with data protection legislation. Your data will remain linked to your email address for a period of 5 years, after which point it will be fully anonymised and retained indefinitely by the University of Sussex. In addition, once the Perception Census is completed your data – in fully anonymised form – will be shared with collaborators at the University of Glasgow and may be uploaded onto the Open Science Framework website (https://osf.io/).

You are in control of the personal information you share with us. If you have any questions, change your mind about taking part in the Perception Census, or would like to have your data removed please contact: perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk

Further information about how the University of Sussex processes personal data, and your data rights, can be found in the University of Sussex’s Privacy Notice: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/about/website/privacy-and-cookies/privacy

The Perception Census has received ethical approval from the University of Sussex (project reference number is ER/ANILS/5). For more information on this approval, please contact: perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk.

Will my data be shared with third parties?

All information collected about you, including demographic information and your responses in the Perception Census will be kept strictly confidential and securely stored by the University of Sussex and handled in accordance with data protection legislation. Your data will remain linked to your email address for a period of 5 years, after which point it will be fully anonymised and retained indefinitely by the University of Sussex. In addition, once the Perception Census is completed, your data – in fully anonymised form – will be shared with collaborators at the University of Glasgow and may be uploaded onto the Open Science Framework website (https://osf.io/).

No data is being supplied to, or reviewed by, the UK Government, and there are no links between the Perception Census and any official census surveys run by The Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Northern Ireland Statistics Agency (NISRA) or National Records of Scotland. Your data, and the survey findings, are not being used or supplied for marketing, promotion or commercial purposes to any third parties. The purpose of the data collected by the Perception Census is to further the research by the University of Glasgow and the University of Sussex into the philosophy of perception and perceptual diversity, leading to a major scientific survey on the nature of perception. You can read more about their work and their research interest and objectives here:

If there is anything that is not clear, or if you would like more information, please email us at perceptioncensus@sussex.ac.uk and we will be happy to answer your query.

How has this study been approved?

The Perception Census has received ethical approval from the University of Sussex (project reference number is ER/ANILS/5). Because the Perception Census is investigating how you experience the world, you may learn things about yourself. However, none of the activities can diagnose clinical conditions.

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