To study how the mind and brain work, specific components of cognition -- such as perception, attention, learning, and memory -- are typically studied in isolation. This approach runs the risk of missing the forest for the trees. The overarching theme of the lab's research is that these parts of the mind are inherently interactive, and that this interactivity is key for understanding the nature of any particular part, as well as the mind as a whole. Using functional neuroimaging and psychophysical techniques, we have applied this perspective to several cognitive and neural phenomena.
As a case study, a major research focus in the lab concerns 'statistical learning', the remarkable ability of humans and other species to detect, represent, and exploit statistical regularities in the world around us without conscious awareness or intent. For example, we effortlessly learn the locations of objects in a room, the boundaries between words, and the sequence of landmarks on the way home. While statistical learning needs to develop over time, we are also interested in more immediate types of learning and memory, including perhaps the most basic form: reduced neural responses to repeated vs. novel things. This 'repetition attenuation' has been studied as an important consequence of the interaction between perception and memory, and has been used as a tool to understand the nature of visual representations. In a new direction for the lab, we have begun exploring the neural scaffolding for interactions between perception, attention, learning, and memory as reflected in 'functional connectivity'. We have found that seemingly random fluctuations are selectively shared within category-specific visual networks both during rest and in the background of tasks, and that the dynamics of these networks can be predictive of behavior and affected by attentional state.