My name is Zekun Sun. I'm a 5th-year PhD student studying perception and cognition. I'm currently working on visual complexity, with Chaz Firestone at Johns Hopkins University.

Objects, events and circumstances in the world frequently strikes us as being simple or complex. How is complexity extracted and represented by our minds, and why our minds bother to perceive the complexity of reality?

Here is my CV.


Sun & Firestone (in press), JEP: General

Lossy compression of a complex world

What is the relationship between complexity in the world and complexity in the mind? The mind engages in a kind of lossy compression for overly complex stimuli.

Sun & Firestone, VSS 2020

The simple and the beautiful

A plain, blank canvas doesn’t look very beautiful; to make it aesthetically appealing requires adding structure and complexity. But how much structure is best? Is there a ‘sweet spot’ of perceived complexity?

Sun & Firestone, VSS 2021

The mental "evolution" of complexity

Memory rarely replicates exactly what we see; instead, it reconstructs past experiences with distortions and errors. Does memory enhance or diminish the complexity of what we see?

Coming as a review article

Cognitive Consequences of Complexity

How does the mind cope with complexity of the world? How does that matter?


  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (2021). Speaking and seeing: How verbal "description length" encodes visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. [pdf]

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (2021). Curious objects: How visual complexity guides attention and engagement. Cognitive Science, 45(4), e12933. [pdf]

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (2020). Optimism and pessimism in the predictive brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24, 683-685. [pdf]

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (2020). The dark room problem. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 24, 346-348. [pdf]
    - Klein (2020)
    - Seth et al. (2020)
    - Van de Cruys, Friston, & Clark (2020)

  • Fan, L., Sun, Y. B., Sun, Z.K., Wang, N., Luo, F., Yu, F., & Wang, J. Y. (2018). Modulation of auditory sensory memory by chronic clinical pain and acute experimental pain: a mismatch negativity study. Scientific Reports, 8(1), 1-13. [pdf]

  • Sun, Z.K., Wang, J.-Y. and Luo, F. Experimental Pain Induces Attentional Bias That Is Modified by Enhanced Motivation: An Eye Tracking Study. European Journal of Pain, 2016, 20(8): 1266-1277. [pdf]

    In preparation

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (in prep.). The simple and the beautiful: An aesthetic preference for medially complex stimuli

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (in prep). The evolution of complexity in visual memory.

  • Sun, Z., & Yu, Q. (in prep). Not too simple, not too complex: The Goldilocks principle drives visual attention and memory.

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (in prep). Cognitive consequences of visual complexity.
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