Science in the Wild Radio Show and Podcast with Hosts Gary Riccio and Nathan Roman

Science In the Wild can guide an entire career in the laboratory

Science In the Wild can guide an entire career in the laboratory


Thomas StoffregenIn this episode, Gary and Nathan talk with Thomas Stoffregen, Ph.D., Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. Tom’s current research interests include perception and control of body orientation, and its integration with simultaneous suprapostural action (research carried out in the context of human-computer interaction); postural stability and motion sickness in virtual environments; perception and control of the dynamics of actor-environment systems (i.e., perception and exploitation of affordances).

We invited Tom to talk about his research because of Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus and the symptoms of motion sickness that it will elicit in many users.  We addressed motion sickness in virtual environments mostly in our second interview with Tom. In this episode, we focused on his career trajectory. As with all of our prior guests, Tom’s career has involved a journey through a variety of disciplines and domains of application. He told several stories about fascinating settings in which he worked, often that he could not have anticipated, as well as research problems ranging from the exotic to the quotidian.

On his journey, Dr. Stoffregen has had to become conversant with subject matter and master methods from cognitive psychology to human movement science, from vision science to research on inertial and mechano-receptive systems associated with perception of balance and orientation, and from clinical neurology to nonlinear dynamics. And he has had to apply these scientific disciplines to problems of human health and performance in space, in flight, and at sea as well as in unusual situations on land.

Echoing the lessons from our interview with Dr. Fred Diedrich, converging evidence has been an important strategy that Dr. Stoffregen has used to assure quality in his research programs. With Tom, we were able to delve a bit more deeply into the long-term commitments that often characterize a body of work that is held in high esteem in the scientific community. Tom’s philosophical commitment has been to a school of thought known as ecological psychology. Within the associated theoretical framework, his enduring research focus has been on the causal influences of postural stability on perceptual performance and experience, in essence the platform for engagement with the world.

In the context of a body of work in a scientific career, we also talked about the peer review that is so critical to quality in science. Reviewing the work of other scientists is one of the most significant time commitments in the profession of science. Tom described this responsibility as one the most enjoyable aspects of being in a scientific community insofar as it gives him opportunities to think deeply about science itself. He emphasized, as we have in prior episodes, that science is a process of inquiry more than a set of facts. Engaging in that inquiry, collaboratively in the peer review process, requires an understanding of the body of work of another scientist. There is a deep and generally satisfying connection with others in this community.

Dr. Stoffregen received a Ph.D. from Cornell University in Human Experimental Psychology, and B.A. in Psychology with high honors from Oberlin College. As a Full Professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Stoffregen is Director of the Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory, Member of Center for Cognitive Sciences and the Graduate education faculty. He also is member of the Graduate faculty in the Department of Psychology, Department of Industrial Engineering, All University Graduate Minor in Human Factors/Ergonomics, and Graduate program in Neuroscience.

Key Terms and Concepts

  • Ecological psychology
  • Kinesiology
  • Human movement science
  • Perception and action
  • Postural stability
  • Motion sickness
  • Virtual Reality (VR)
  • Peer review