Dr Alexander De Foe

Consciousness researcher


A developmental approach to human consciousness

If you are a 4th year honours student or recently graduated provisional psychologist you may wish to consider joining our research team by completing a PhD program in cognitive science. Presently I'm most interested in working with candidates on the broad strata of topics that emerge from human perception research. Recently I've also taken an interest into the transformative nature of self-construct and how that's mediated by social media and technological use factors. Some examples of projects my research group has supported in the past include: (a) The epistemic construct of "being there" in virtual simulations (b) multi-generational factors of perception-reward mechanisms in social media use and (c) general mind/brain theories related to phenomenal consciousness.

Lab setup @ Melbourne campus:

As an experimental psychologist I encourage all graduate students to take a "hands on" exploratory approach in their research. Our lab is presently equipped with a VR headset and various software packages to support production of virtual environments. Additionally we have worked with momentary sampling and eye-tracking technologies to examine research questions in the above scope.

Why study holistic consciousness and perception?

Psychology often does not articulate well the problem of global or holistic states of consciousness as they are difficult to tackle experimentally. Unlike access consciousness — the awareness of being conscious of something — the phenomenological nature of consciousness itself is not easily conceptualised. Pioneer theorists in psychology such as William James speculated that the nature of consciousness is one of the most important topics – if not the most important topic – that we ought to grapple with.

One reason that many researchers have shied away from this topic of inquiry is that it seemingly presents a hard research problem – one not easily approachable by the standard measurements and techniques of empirical science. I've proposed that this is not necessarily the case and the broader nature of consciousness is well-worth investigating further in modern research.

Arguments to consider for the exploration of ASC

  • The consciousness problem is not a hard research issue but rather an under-examined one with insufficient explanative models across disciplines
  • Altered states are not ineffable but rather poorly understood from a phenomenological standpoint — most theories offer categorical rather than spectral explanations for global states
  • There are likely more obvious clues in cousin areas of inquiry such as that of autobiographical memory and feature integration research that will reveal the phenomenal characteristics of consciousness in due time
  • State-changes such as those found in OBE and psi-related experience offer a rich but under-examined source of data on the broad spectra of altered states
  • Meaningful methodological tools such as the use of VR and sensory deprivation should be further developed as a means of studying the consciousness problem

Alex's research: Showcase

Current projects

I am currently working with a team of researchers on perceptual thresholds and signal detection. Research into perception/attention has highlighted that we preference certain types of information while discarding others. Certain sensory input is just out of our perceptual range – beneath the threshold of recognition. We are currently examining various personality and cognitive factors that mediate these perceptual processes.

Presently I am involved in a cross-institutional project to examine social cognition in the use of psychedelic substances and meditation. While prior work has found that both therapeutic interventions show a marked decrease in generalised anxiety the mechanisms of action in promoting social cognition and connectedness have yet to be examined at depth.

The social self is transformed in social media contexts in a variety of unique ways. Our research team is working on a personality-driven approach to examine how our technologically-driven world exaggerates grand-scale narcissism in certain instances while promoting pro-social behaviour in others. This research hopes to shed light on how the self is transformed in social media for better or worse!

Opportunities to work with Alex

Available student projects

Alex predominantly works with researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne CBD but also has wide-reaching collaborations with colleagues at Monash University and Federation University as well as nationally and internationally.

Click on a project for more detail

This project will involve development and testing of new conceptual models relevant to consciousness. Empirical work may relate to intervention-centric or translation-based approaches to examine the relationships between these constructs. A psychology or cognitive science candidate with an interest in philosophical models of human action will be well-suited to take part in this project. As a student working on this project you will join a team of researchers who are striving to understand the relationship between states of consciousness and pro-social behaviour within an applied health context.

You will conduct 3-4 experimental studies in an area related to cognitive science or mental health research. A research-track student will design a series of studies focused on the topics of perceptual integration and absorption in VR with relation to health and safety outcomes. A clinically-trained psychology student will develop a set of studies oriented on assessmen or other clinical outcomes in high-prevalence disorders that are faced by the broader Australian population such as social anxiety or cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease.

A candidate with a social media research and psychology background will be well suited to take part in this project. Approximately 4-7 studies will be conducted which will involve predominantly the application of ecological momentary assessments (EMAs) and/or technology-centric research. Populations that are of interest within this scope are those with high-level body-image concern and pro/anti-social behaviours. Mediators such as personality covariates (ex: introversion/extraversion) are also of potential interest within this project.