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

Dreamachine installation showing a woman silhouetted by coloured light. Photo credit Urszula Soltys

The public are being invited to take part in the largest ever scientific study into the unique ways we experience the world around us.

The Perception Census is led by world-leading academics Professor of Philosophy Fiona Macpherson from the University of Glasgow and Professor of Neuroscience 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. If enough people take part, it is hoped it will transform our understanding of how and why we each experience the world differently.

This ground-breaking study is part of the immersive art experience Dreamachine which toured the UK over the last six months.

Fiona Macpherson, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience at School of Humanities | Sgoil nan Daonnachdan, said: “We invite people to take part in the Perception Census so that 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.”

Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive & Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, and lead scientist on the Dreamachine project, said: “What’s really unique about the Perception Census is that we aren’t just looking into a single aspect of perception, such as vision, or hearing, or time.

“By exploring many different aspects of perception together, we’ll be able for the first time to understand how these different ways of experiencing the world relate to each other, giving each of us our own, totally unique, ‘inner universe’.”

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.

By completing the survey, you’ll 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. 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.

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.

Perception Census

People all over the world can take part online via the Perception Census website


Dreamachine was one of 10 major creative projects commissioned 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 programme has been delivered in partnership with Cardiff Council, Northern Ireland Science Festival, Edinburgh Science, and Edinburgh International Festival, and in association with Woolwich Works and W5 Belfast.

First published: 11 October 2022