Public invited to take part in largest ever scientific study into perception

Published: 12 July 2022

The Perception Census, an ambitious new scientific study into the unique ways in which we each experience the world around us, has been launched

The academic and artistic team behind the immersive art experience Dreamachine have launched The Perception Census, an ambitious new scientific study into the unique ways in which we each experience the world around us.

The study is led by University of Glasgow's Professor of Philosophy Fiona Macpherson fand Professor Anil Seth from the University of Sussex.

The research team aims to reach tens of thousands of people worldwide with the census, making it the largest study of its kind and the first major citizen science project into perceptual diversity.

Fiona Macpherson, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience at the University of Glasgow said: "We invite people to take part in the Perception Census so that we we can find out how people perceive the world differently. The Census examines many different aspects of perception such as seeing colour, hearing music, experiencing illusions, and having dreams.

"We provide feedback to people about their own perception, the perception of others, and what we are studying, which we hope will lead to a greater understanding of the diversity among people. Philosophers and scientists are only beginning to uncover the extent of the fascinating differences between people, and to understand the implications for our understanding of the nature of perceptual experience, the world around us, and how we should study the mind.

Scientists and philosophers have long been fascinated by perception: the process by which the brain helps create our experiences of the world by processing sensory information. Yet little is known about how this process differs for each of us, or how the many influences on perception relate to each other - leading us to each experience the world in our own unique ways.

Participants taking part in the census will be invited to complete a series of online interactive and engaging tasks, exploring themes such as colours and illusions, time, sound and music, and our beliefs about the world.

The variety of responses to the research questions explored, including ‘How do our brain’s ‘expectations’ affect what we see?’, ‘How vivid are our imaginations?’, ‘How do our senses work together?’ and ‘How do we sense the passing of time?’ will shed unique light on the different ways in which we each encounter the world, how this shapes our lives, and who we are.

As well as contributing to this emerging field of science, those taking part in the census will have the chance to learn more about their own powers of perception. Connecting thousands of participants around the world, the findings from the study will generate a unique body of scientific and philosophical research and data, which will be an extremely valuable resource for years to come. Initial findings are expected at the end of this year.

The Perception Census is part of the Dreamachine programme, inviting audiences across the UK to explore the extraordinary potential of their own minds.  

The Dreamachine live experience is inspired by a little-known 1959 invention by artist–inventor Brion Gysin. His experimental homemade device used flickering light to create vivid illusions, patterns and explosions of colour in the mind of the viewer. Designed to be the “first artwork to be experienced with your eyes closed”, Gysin had a vision for his invention to replace the TV in every home in America. Instead of passive consumers of mass-produced media, viewers of the Dreamachine would create their own cinematic experiences.

Created by Collective Act, the Dreamachine programme brings together Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury nominated composer Jon Hopkins, and a team of leading technologists, scientists and philosophers.


Dreamachine is commissioned and presented as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK. UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK is funded and supported by the four governments of the UK and is commissioned and delivered in partnership with Belfast City Council, Creative Wales and EventScotland.

The Dreamachine live experience is presented at: Woolwich Public Market, London, where it will run until 24 July 2022; Carlisle Memorial Church, Belfast (25 July – 4 September 2022); and Murrayfield Ice Rink, Edinburgh (13 August – 25 September 2022).

It was presented at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff from 12 May – 18 June 2022. More than 20,000 people have experienced Dreamachine already. Tickets for the live experience can be booked via


The Perception Census

People all over the world can take part online here on The Dreamachine Perception Census website , with audience members at the Dreamachine live experience also invited to contribute to the research. 


First published: 12 July 2022