Otto Lappi

"If you do not change direction
you may end up where you are heading."
- Anon.


The human mind has a remarkable ability to quickly and efficiently encode complex spatial information and use it to coordinate precise movements and locomotion through 3D space. This core cognitive capacity of the brain is involved in almost everything we do in everyday life: walking to work in the morning, preparing food in our kitchen, playing billiards with our friends, or steering a car through a series of bends. In Artificial Intelligence physical action rich natural task contexts has turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. Yet the human brain does it quickly and efficiently, even with apparent ease. How?

The aim of my work is to understand the fundamental mechanisms underlying high-speed locomotion in skilled individuals - in particular processes involved in trajectory planning. Relevant areas of research include cognitive modeling, vehicle dynamics, cognitive neuroscience, sports psychology, and perceptual and cognitive psychology.

I did my PhD (2014) in Cognitive Science on car drivers' visual behavior in curve driving. In my post-doc work I want to explore the same processes in tasks requiring higher levels of skill and expertise.

Complete list of publications in the University of Helsinki TUHAT Research Database

Researchgate profile

Traffic Research Unit Homepages

Julkaisut ja aktiviteetit TUHAT tutkimustietokannassa 


I teach both introductory and advanced undergraduate courses in cognitive science, and supervise Bachelor's, Master's and PhD theses. The courses taught include Introduction to Cognitive Science, Cognitive Modeling, Experimental Course in Perceptual or Cognitive Psychology, Scientific Reasoning & Argumentation, History of Cognitive Science, History of Psychology, Neurophilosophy, and the Bachelor and Master's level thesis seminars.

Kognitiotiede, Helsingin yliopisto 

University Lecturer, PhD

Cognitive Science
University of Helsinki

otto.lappi at

Selected Publications

Lappi, O., Rinkkala, P. & Pekkanen, J. (under review). The Path Less Travelled by: An On-Road Case Study of an Expert Driver's Gaze Strategies.

The first field-experiment paper using our new eye tracker and methodological developments

Lappi, O. (2016). Eye movements in the wild: oculomotor events, gaze behavior and frames of reference. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 69, 4-68.
doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.06.006

Reviews the state-of-the-art in understanding complex visuomotor behavior "in the wild", raising some of the conceptual and theoretical issues addressed in our lab's work, and open issues my future projects will address.

Lappi, O. (2015). The Racer's Brain: How Domain Expertise is Reflected in the Neural Substrates of Driving. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9:635.
doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00635

The first comprehensive review of the emerging brain imaging work on the neural substrates of driving. Written explicitly in preparation for work on race driving expertise.

Lehtonen, E., Lappi, O., Koirikivi, I. & Summala, H. (2014). Effect of driving experience on anticipatory look-ahead fixations in real curve driving, Accident Analysis & Prevention, 70, 195-208.

Lehtonen, E., Lappi, O., Kotkanen, H., & Summala, H. (2013). Look-ahead fixations in curve driving. Ergonomics, 56(1), 34-44.

These two papers are first on-road studies to identify and quantitatively analyze look-ahead fixations, and the of alternating between guiding fixations (a.k.a. just-in-time fixations, Ballard, Hayhoe & Pelz, J Cogn Neurosci, 1995) and look-ahead fixations (Pelz & Canosa, Vis Res, 2001; Mennie, Hayhoe & Sullivan, Exp Brain Res, 2007; a.k.a. gaze polling, Wilkie, Wann & Allison, JEP HPP, 2008). They continued the new line of research in our lab instigated by my PhD work, detailed investigation of curve driving and became part of Dr. Esko Lehtonen's PhD work.

Lappi, O. (2014). Future path and tangent point models in the visual control of locomotion in curve driving. Journal of Vision, 14(12), 1-22.

A review of on-road eye tracking literature on visual control of steering of the past 25 years since the original tangent point study (Land & Lee, Nature, 1994). (And how my PhD work contributed to it).

Lappi, O. (2013). Eyes on the Road: Eye Movements and the Visual Control of Locomotion in Curve Driving. (Studies in Cognitive Science / University of Helsinki. Institute of Behavioural Sciences; 5). Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Institute of Behavioural Sciences.

My PhD. All authors in the papers that went into my PhD were my fellow PhD students or my undergraduate students.

Lappi, O., Pekkanen, J. J. O., & Itkonen, T. (2013). Pursuit Eye-Movements in Curve Driving Differentiate between Future Path and Tangent Point Models. PLoS ONE, 7(8), e68326.

The keystone paper of my PhD. (Got cited in H.Eysenck: Cognitive Psychology, A Student's Handbook 7th ed. (2015)!).

In a previous paper (Lappi & Lehtonen, J Eye Mov Res 2013) we had just for the first time in an on-road study shown optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) in real-world curve driving. Here we used OKN parameters as a novel method to analyze driver gaze data; this more sophisticated analysis overcomes the AOI overlap problem that we had shown to plague more traditional methods used in other on-road studies (Lappi, Lehtonen, Pekkanen & Itkonen, J Vis, 2013). Now we were for the first time able to differentiate between quantitative predictions from the prevailing tangent point model and the alternative future path models. The results supported the FP models (e.g. Wann & Swapp, Nat Neurosci, 2000), undermining the plausibility of the TP models as a general account of steering.




Last update 2017 / 03 / 02