Roberta Klatzky’s research investigates perception, spatial thinking and action from the perspective of multiple modalities, sensory and symbolic, in real and virtual environments. She spent her childhood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near Lake Superior. Klatzky received a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford University. She began her academic career at the University of California, Santa Barbara and then moved to Carnegie Mellon University to become Head of Psychology, where she was instrumental in bridging the department’s longstanding computational emphasis with cognitive neuroscience. She also serves on the faculty of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and Neuroscience Institute. Klatzky was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science and the National Academy of Sciences, and she is a member of the Society of Experimental Psychologists (honorary). Her professional affiliations include Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). She received an Alexander von Humboldt Research Award and the Kurt Koffka Medaille from Justus-Liebig-University of Giessen, Germany. The Association for Psychological Science gave her its James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, which honors a lifetime of outstanding contributions to applied psychological research.

Research Interests

Roberta Klatzky studies how sensory signals enable perception, action and spatial thinking. Her research has pursued the contributions of multiple sensory modalities, including vision, audition, and touch, alone and in interaction. In seminal research with colleague Susan Lederman, she identified a set of haptic "exploratory procedures": patterns of activity that optimize sensory signals from cutaneous and kinesthetic receptors during perception of objects and surfaces. Klatzky employs haptic virtual environments to develop models of how people use touch to perceive complex physical phenomena such as objects hidden under sand, spring compression and buckling, and membrane puncture. She also investigates how the sensory channels of touch and vision interact, for example, as people judge the roughness of a texture they see and feel, or when virtual visual information is projected into the field of view in order to augment real manipulation, or when an object's visual appearance motivates people to touch it for hedonic reasons. Her research on spatial cognition provided novel insights into how people flexibly represent their locations within self-based and externally grounded reference frames, enabling them to navigate without vision and adopt imagined perspectives. Klatzky's basic research has been applied to tele-manipulation, image-guided surgery, navigation aids for the blind, and neural rehabilitation.

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Primary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences