The 2019 edition of the European Conference on Eye Movements (ECEM) took place in blisteringly hot Alicante this year. This coincided almost perfectly with the end of our ORA grant so Soazig and I were keen to go and present some of the key findings to the eye-movement community. It was also very welcome to trade the dull and rainy UK with its Brexit blues for sunnier climes 😊. We were fortunate to both get talk slots; my talk was first in our session, which was chaired by Marissa Carrasco. I described some experiments demonstrating how the Effective Oculomotor Range constrains spatial attention, including data from our recent Cortex paper, and some new data (slides here: DanSmith ECEM 2019). Everyone seemed interested and there was lots of nodding, although I once made the mistake of making eye-contact with a frowning Heiner Deubel which rather to put me off my stride! There were some good questions but I fumbled the one on IOR a bit, which was annoying because all the data are in the Cortex paper and I just forgot about it. I then moderated for Marissa’s talk (since she came to Durham we are now on 1st name terms 😊) but there was then a rather comical/awkward moment when we had a brief discussion/disagreement about how much time was left 10 mins into her talk. (I know it was exactly 10 minutes BECAUSE I WAS TIMING IT WITH A TIMER). Luca Wollenberg was next, and he presented some nice new data on the time-course attention in averaging saccades, and got a good laugh offering to do a little dance in lieu of taking questions. The session concluded with two interesting talks from Visser, Renswoude & colleagues on attention to features in category learning. In the final session of the meeting Soazig presented data on interactions between WM and presaccadic attention that was so hot-off-the press she was still running analyses the day before the talk. Unfortunately, I missed it having booked an early flight, but from what I hear on Twitter it went very well, and the data are certainly very exciting.
In addition to seeing the talks on attention and eye-movements in our own sessions, one of the pleasures of ECEM is hearing about the range of cognitive processes that are informed by studies of eye-movements, and this year was no different. Some particular highlights for me were Edwin Dalmaijer’s talk on disgust, a very insightful discussion of eye-movements in Parkinson’s disease with Chyrstalina Antoniades, the keynote from Jenny Groh explaining the motoric effects of auditory attention, Jonas Ludwig’s talk on the ‘zero bias’ in decision making and Eugene McSorley’s talk on saccade programming. Pupillometry seemed to be in vogue this year too, and I enjoyed Sebastiaan Mathots talk describing on pupillometric marker for exploration vs exploitation modes of visual search. I also really enjoyed the session on “Looking at Nothing” chaired by Johansson & Rosner. I sat in on a similar session at my first ECEM in Lund (2013) and it was interesting to see how the debate had moved on from a discussion of the existence of the looking at nothing effect to a discussion of its function. It also gave me a few ideas for experiments on imagery, which chimed with the ideas I discussed with Dan Eaves at the RIO group meeting earlier this year (REPORT).
In general, I was impressed with the quality of talks (with the odd exception), although it was a bit unfortunate that some of the screens in the lecture rooms were rather small. There was lots of interest in the poster sessions too, my favourite poster being this one from Rakesh Nanjappar ->. It was also amusing to watch Ken Scott-Brown hovering around his two students (Krystian Ciesielski and Crystal Silver) like an expectant father as they presented their work. Mercifully there was only one of the ‘new posters’ where most of the body is taken up with the conclusion, as if the purpose of a poster session is to put up an advert. The poster sessions were also a great opportunity to catch up with old chums like Ken, Doug Barrett, Eugene McSorely, Iain Gilchrist, Edwin Dalmeijer and Cas Ludwig. Our discussions during the posters were well lubricated with wine, beer and soft drinks & there was plenty of tapas-style food at lunchtime which was included with the conference registration fee. I thought the quality of the catering at lunchtime was excellent, but not everyone shared this view and I think there were some issues with the vegetarian selections. In the evenings we tended to eat late, as is the Spanish way, and a real highlight for me was the evening in the tapas bar where the staff rang a bell whenever they got a tip. I also really enjoyed the conference dinner in the spectacular surroundings of Castell Santa Barbara, although I paid for it the next day!
A minor gripe was that the lack of wi-fi, and at first this felt very frustrating. However, on reflection I think it was probably a bit of a blessing in disguise as I spent a lot more time talking with people, which is probably one of the main points of a conference! Overall ECEM 2019 was an excellent meeting which I found intellectually stimulating, produced some excellent schmoozing and was thoroughly enjoyable. Hats off to the organizing committee for doing a great job, I’m already looking forward to Leicester 2021.