My name is Zekun (hear my name). I'm a postdoctoral researcher at Yale University, working in ACT Lab. I earned my PhD in Cognitive Psychology at Johns Hopkins University, where I was part of Percaption and Mind Lab.

The world frequently strikes us as being simple or complex. But why do our minds bother to represent complexity in the first place? My research seeks to understand how the mind computes the complexity of information and how the mental representation of complexity shapes our interactions with the world. I’m not only interested in the connections between the complexity of stimuli and the complexity of their representations, but also in the evolution of mental complexity across different cognitive processes to serve various epistemic and pragmatic goals. Lately, the question that keeps me awake at night is how the mind knits a sequence of stimuli and builds coherent representations over time.

Here is my CV.

Previously, I studied...

Sun & Firestone (2022), 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 (2022), Perception

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?

Lately, I've been exploring...

VSS 2022

Mental construction of relations

The world contains not only objects and features, but also relations holding between them. How do such relations form in the mind?

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 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., Han, S., & Firestone, C. (in press). Caricaturing shapes in visual memory. Psychological Science

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (2022). Beautiful on the inside: Aesthetic preferences and the skeletal complexity of shapes. Perception. [pdf]

  • Sun, Z., & Firestone, C. (2022). Speaking and seeing: How verbal "description length" encodes visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151, 82–96. [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. and Hafri, A. (in prep). How to build a scene: Relational representations are constructed in a canonical order.

  • Sun, Z., & Yu, Q. (in prep). How to look unique.

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

  • Email: zekun.sun@yale.edu
  • Office: 1256, 100 College Street, New Haven, CT 06510