Dreamachine: The Perception Census digital platform

Entrant: Collective Act; Category: Creative Effectiveness

The Perception Census is the first major citizen science project in the world investigating perceptual diversity. Perception is the process by which the brain helps create each person’s experiences of the world by processing sensory information, but little is known about how this process differs from person to person.

The census was created to sit alongside Dreamachine, an immersive experience that offered the chance for audiences to experience the extraordinary potential of their own minds. The creative design task was to build a bespoke digital platform and brand identity that would engage mass audiences in this new and robust scientific survey exploring the profound mysteries of our senses and how we perceive and create the world around us.

The study is made up of digital games, illusions and brain teasers that explore how you perceive sound and time, how your senses work together, how your imagination works, and much more. It is the first of its kind to bring such an array of scientific experiments together into one elegantly designed and interactive website.

The goal was for the study to be the first major citizen science project investigating perception cross-modally, supporting researchers to better understand how neurodivergence relates to the differences in perception that exist between all of us, and in turn shedding new light on our understanding of the mind. We all inhabit our own unique inner universes, but not much is known about our inner diversity, and the census explored questions that have baffled, and divided, philosophers and scientists for centuries – including how we perceive time, our beliefs about consciousness and our sense of self.

Through a series of interactive tasks and experiments, playing with colours, shapes, visual illusions and more, participants were guided to explore their unique perceptual abilities. The platform needed to be engaging, entertaining and accessible to an incredibly diverse audience, of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life. It needed to reward the participants taking part in it, as well as provide feedback to support their learning.

The scientific and philosophical research underpinning the Dreamachine programme was led by bestselling author, cognitive neuroscientist and professor Anil Seth from the University of Sussex, in collaboration with scientist David Schwartzman from the University of Sussex and professor of philosophy Fiona Macpherson from the University of Glasgow, plus more than 20 collaborating researchers around the world.

Nearly 35,000 people took part, totalling more than 30,000 hours of public participation in new scientific research, with participants ranging in age from 18 to 80-plus. Participants from 133 countries contributed to this growing body of scientific and philosophical data, with more than 100,000 research activities within the census completed. The study generated more participation in academic research than any other large-scale psychological study carried out to date. The range of diverse participants speaks to the ease of the design and quality of the content.

Some participants even discovered new insights about their own powers of perception and their unique perceptual abilities, such as synaesthesia. Insights from the Dreamachine immersive experience and findings from The Perception Census are now supporting major new studies on the nature of perceptual experience and have generated a unique body of research that will be valuable to the fields of neuroscience and more for years to come.

Production: Collective Act
Platform Development: Lydia Entwistle, Dev Joshi,Tara Simmonds
Brand and Marketing: Willow Williams, Erin Wolson
Project Direction and Management: Jennifer Crook
Website Design: Michael Watson, Rob Jozefowski, Project Simply
Animation: Guy Chase, Shay Hamias, Meital Miselevich
Scientific Development, University of Sussex: James Alvarez, Reny Baykova, Trevor Hewitt, David Schwartzman
Philosophical Development, University of Glasgow: Fiona Macpherson
Scientific Direction and Management, University of Sussex: Anil Seth