Evan McHughes Palmer

Evan McHughes Palmer

Associate Professor, 



What research questions currently preoccupy you?

I’m really interested in how modern technologies are changing the ways we perceive, attend, and think. Recently, I’ve been investigating the idea of gamification—using game-like elements in non-game situations to make tasks more fun and engaging. In particular, we would like to use the gamification techniques we are developing to make people better at socially critical visual search tasks, such as scanning x-rays for tumors or checked baggage for contraband.

What personal factors contributed to your study of gamified visual search training?

I like to play video games and in the last decade or so the field of visual perception has recognized that some video games are really good at improving visual functioning. This led me to wonder how the human visual system changes in response to the reward structures inherent in video games, which then led to our set of studies on gamified visual search training.

What has been most challenging in your research?

One of the biggest challenges has been finding an experimental paradigm that effectively trains visual attention skills while also not boring people to death. This is one of the reasons we tried the gamification route, which turned out to both make people enjoy our experiments more and also increase the effectiveness of our visual search training.

A hidden (research) talent:

One of my research talents is that I’m a very visual thinker, so when I have an idea about something I can usually explain it to somebody pretty well if I can draw them a picture. Unfortunately, being a good drawer is NOT a particular talent of mine, but I’m good enough to get my ideas across. Being able to visualize concepts and data has proven extremely useful for my research program.

One book that changed your life (or research) and why:

It’s a little dated now, but the book Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson really changed the way I viewed modern technology and media and the effects they are having on our culture. We often want to complain about how “kids these days” waste their time on video games, texting, web surfing, and reality TV, but maybe those activities are actually spurring society-wide cognitive improvements. Johnson reviews the data on the “Flynn Effect” which shows that average IQs have been improving about 3 points per decade since the 1930s. He suggests that the increasing complexity and pace of modern society is behind the increase in IQ, which means that activities some consider frivolous might actually be cognitively complex and “good” for you.

Advice you’d give to newer faculty or students:

My three big pieces of advice, especially for students, are be curious, work hard, keep a good work/life balance. Curiosity makes learning FUN and will lead to deep and meaningful insights relevant to one’s life. Hard work will turn the curiosity into a good track record of achievements, and having a good work/life balance will make you are more well-rounded person who is capable of handling the inevitable set-backs we all experience in work or school.

RSCA Accomplishments

Keebler, J.R., Lazzara, E.H., Patzer, B., Palmer, E.M., Smith, D., Plummer, J.P., Lew, V., Fouquet, S., Chan, R., & Riss, R. (in press). A Meta-Analysis on the Effects of Standardized Protocols on Patient, Provider, and Organizational Outcomes. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Sivagnanasundaram, N., Palmer, E., & Chaparro, A. (2016). Examining Aviation Navigation Display Symbology in Visual Search. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, (2600), 102-111.