Rolf Nelson

Professor of Psychology
Chair, Psychology Department


Phone: 508-286-3632

Fax: 508-286-3640


Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
B.A., Macalester College


Main Interests

My main interests are in the area of human visual perception. I study the way in which visual scenes are organized into something meaningful via processes like figure-ground organization and Gestalt grouping. I also do research in other areas within cognition, including implicit perception, visual perception in autism, and the effects of video games on critical thinking skills.

Other Interests

Traveling, kids, home improvement, good food, visual illusions


Nelson, R., & Hebda, N. (2018). Figure/Ground Processing: A Reassessment of Gelb & Granit. Perception, 47(3), 344-354.

Kinateder, M., & Nelson, R. (2017).  Threshold differences on figure and ground: Gelb & Granit (1923).  I-Perception, 8(1).

Hardy, J.L., Nelson, R.A., Thomason, M.E., Sternberg, D.A., Katovich, K., Faraz, F., & Scanlon, M. (2015). Enhancing Cognitive Abilities with Comprehensive Training: A Large, Online, Randomized, Active-Controlled Trial. PLoS One, 10(9): e0134467.

Nelson, R., Reiss, J.E., Gong, X., Conklin, S., Parker, L., & Palmer, S.E. (2014). The shape of a hole is perceived as the shape of its interior. Perception, 43(10), 1033-1048.

Nelson, R., & Strachan, I. (2009). Action and puzzle video games prime different speed/accuracy tradeoffsPerception, 38(11), 1678-1687.

Nelson, R., Thierman, J., & Palmer, S.E. (2009). Shape memory for intrinsic versus accidental holesAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics, 71(1),200-206.

Palmer, S. E., Davis, J., Nelson, R., & Rock, I. (2008). Figure-ground effects on shape memory for objects versus holesPerception, 37, 1569-1586.

Nelson, R., & Palmer, S. (2007). Familiar shapes attract attention in figure-ground displaysPerception and Psychophysics, 69(3), 382-392.

Nelson, R., & Prinzmetal, W. (2003). On the relation between roll and pitchVisual Cognition, 10(6), 715-728.

Palmer, S., Brooks, J., & Nelson, R. (2003). When does grouping happen? Acta Psychologica, 114(3) 311-330.

Nelson, R., & Palmer, S. (2001). Of holes and wholes: The perception of surrounded regionsPerception, 30, 1213-1226.

Palmer, S. & Nelson, R. (2000). Late influences on perceptual grouping: Illusory figuresPerception and Psychophysics, 62(7), 1321-1331.

Teaching Interests

Perception, cognition, memory, experimental lab, consciousness

Student Projects

Fall ’15:
James O’Loughlin: Video game play and implicit priming

Spring ’15:
Ivy Gu:  Figure/ground organization

Summer ’14:
Katherine Merin:  Saccadic Persistence of Vision

Summer ’13:
Nick Hebda:  Implicit associations in video game play

Spring -Fall ’12:

Tongbo Sui & Xue Gong:  Video game play and stress

Spring-Fall ’12:

Xue Gong:  Holes and figure/ground organization

Fall ’10 – Spring ’12:

Emily Greene-Colozzi, Kelsey Dowart, Kate Niegisch:  Color preference in zebrafish

Fall ’10-Fall ’11:
Laura Parker:  Seasonal differences in color perception

Fall ’09:
Sherri Conklin, Jared Floch, Laura Parker: The perception of negative space

Fall ’08 – Spring ’09:
Sherri Conklin, Jared Floch, & Ian Strachan: Cognitive priming in video games

Ian Strachan. Priming speed/accuracy tradeoffs.

Summer/Fall ’07:
Brianne Jeffrey, Sherri Conklin, Michael Koltz, & Jared Floch: Cognitive & perceptual effects of video games.

Fall ’06 – Spring ’07:
Brian Cartun: The perception of negative space

Fall ’05 – Spring ’06
Brian Cartun, Paige MacGregor: Attention and figure-ground perception

Research Interests

Visual perception, figure-ground organization, Gestalt grouping factors, implicit perception.





Diana Davis Spencer Discovery Center 1132


M/W 2-3 p.m. via Zoom (email for link)