Sarah Margaret Shuwairi


In 2008 I completed my Ph.D. in the Cognition and Perception Program at NYU, and in 2014 I joined the Psychology Department at SUNY New Paltz.


C.V. (html)


Research Summary

Infants are born without having any visual experience, and suddenly they are exposed to a number of new sights and sounds in the world around them. I am interested in how infants are able to register the available sensory information and integrate these cues in order to perceive objects, people and events in the world in an organized, veridical fashion. In general, the goals of my research are to characterize the nature and development of coherent 3D object processing and identify regions of cortex supporting these perceptual mechanisms in children and adults. I am particularly interested in understanding how infants and young children are able to perceive and understand that objects, both real and depicted, are structurally coherent in 3-dimensions and continuous in space and time.

My studies have revealed that young infants respond with greater visual interest and increased scanning activity toward impossible figures relative to their possible mates. Infants also engage in more active manual exploration as well as increased babbling and social referencing when interacting with pictures of impossible objects relative to possible ones and other non-object pictorial surfaces. These findings suggest that sensitivity to a number of local pictorial depth cues (e.g., line junctions, binding edges and vertex information) denoting global 3D shape in static images may be functional at a much earlier point in development than was previously believed. And, like adults, young infants appear to actively rely on the available pictorial information to detect violations of global coherence when differentiating between pictures of possible and impossible objects.

Current projects are aimed at investigating young children's and adults' conceptual understanding of the various geometric properties that characterize real 3D objects, such as symmetry, complexity and coherence (i.e., possibility vs. impossibility).


Research Interests

Perceptual and conceptual development; Coherent 3D object perception in infants, children and adults; Perception of impossible objects and ambiguous figures; Sensitivity to pictorial depth information; Aesthetic preferences; Visual interest; Infant curiosity and exploration; Shape categorization; Object permanence; Attentive tracking through occlusion; Color perception; Eye Tracking; fMRI


Recent Publications

Shuwairi, S. M., Bainbridge, R., & Murphy, G. L. (2014). Concept formation and categorization of complex, asymmetric and impossible figures. Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, 76, 1789-1802.

Shuwairi, S. M. & Johnson, S. P. (2013). Oculomotor exploration of impossible figures in early infancy. Infancy, 18, 221–232. [PDF]

Johnson, S. P., Bremner, J. G., Slater, A. M., Shuwairi, S. M., Mason, U., Spring, J., & Usherwood, B. (2012). Young infants perception of the trajectories of 2- and 3-dimensional objects. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 113, 177-185. [PDF]

Shuwairi, S. M., Tran, A., DeLoache, J. S., & Johnson, S. P. (2010). Infants' response to pictures of impossible objects. Infancy, 15, 636-649. [PDF]

Shuwairi, S. M. (2009). Preference for impossible figures in 4-month-old infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104, 115-123. [PDF]

Johnson, S. P. & Shuwairi, S. M. (2009). Learning and memory facilitate predictive tracking in 4-month-olds. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 102, 122-130. [PDF]

Shuwairi, S. M., Curtis, C. E., & Johnson, S. P. (2007). Neural substrates of dynamic object occlusion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 1275-1285. [PDF]

Shuwairi, S. M., Albert, M. K., & Johnson, S. P. (2007). Discrimination of possible and impossible objects in infancy. Psychological Science, 18, 303-307. [PDF]

Johnson, S. P., Amso, D., Frank, M. C., & Shuwairi, S. M. (2007). Perceptual development in infancy as the foundation of event perception. In T. F. Shipley & J. Zacks (Eds.), Understanding events: How humans see, represent, and act on events. New York: Oxford University Press.

Holopigian, K., Shuwairi, S. M., Greenstein, V. C., Winn, B. J., Zhang, X., Carr, R. E., & Hood, D. C. (2005). Multifocal visual evoked potentials to cone specific stimuli in patients with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Vision Research, 45, 3244-3252.

Shuwairi, S. M., Cronin-Golomb, A., O'Donnell, B. F., & McCarley, R. W. (2002). Color discrimination in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Research, 55, 197-204.  [PDF]

Balcer, L. J., Baier, M. L., Pelak, V. S., Fox, R. J., Shuwairi, S. M., Galetta, S. L., Cutter, G. R., & Maguire, M. G. (2000). New low contrast vision charts: Reliability and test characteristics in patients with MS. Multiple Sclerosis, 6, 163-171.


Media Coverage

Infants Are Able To Detect The 'Impossible' At An Early Age (APS Press Release)

Les enfants sont capables de détecter l'impossible à un âge précoce

Escher-themed nurseries? Even four-month-olds can recognize impossible objects (Cognitive Daily Science Blog)

Babies Recognize the Impossible


* Research Website


* Categorization Project