Research

My research focuses on the cognitive and neural systems involved in higher-level visual recognition and attention. The overarching goal is to understand how spatial cognition (i.e., the way that we think about the spatial information in the world around us) influences the way that we recognize objects.

Interests

  • Rotated Object Recognition
  • Huntington’s Disease
  • Visuospatial Attention
  • Autobiographical Memory

Current Students and Lab Alums

Hamasa Ebadi

Hamasa Ebadi

Supervised Senior Research

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor

Honors Research Student; PhD Candidate Dartmouth

Katherine Gamble

Katherine Gamble

Honors Research Student; Phd Georgetown, 2014

Whitney (Ashworth) Halleman

Whitney (Ashworth) Halleman

Honors Research Student; M.S. Ed. University of Pennyslvania

Andrew Furman

Andrew Furman

Honors Research Student; University of Maryland

Research Projects

  • The effects of non-invasive brain stimulation on rotated object recognition

    The effects of non-invasive brain stimulation on rotated object recognition

    One important question in the field of cognitive neuroscience is whether the posterior parietal lobe is critically involved in the recognition of rotated objects? This question is difficult to answer using techniques such a brain imaging because those techniques can only correlate brain activity with cognition. Stimulation techniques such as tDCS are better able to establish causal connections between brain activity and cognition, and therefore provide a more direct answer to questions about the relationship of the mind and the brain. In this line of research, we are testing the hypothesis that recognizing rotated objects does not rely critically on the posterior parietal and that electrical stimulation to that region will influence behavior on visuospatial tasks such as mental rotation, but not rotated object recognition.

  • The effects of non-invasive brain stimulation on Huntington’s Disease

    The effects of non-invasive brain stimulation on Huntington’s Disease

    In collaboration with colleagues in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), this study has two man purposes: 1) To explore the potential therapeutic benefits of non-invasive brain stimulation for the cognitive and motor symptoms of Huntington’s Disease (HD); and 2) to better understand the visuospatial abilities of pre- and early-symptomatic HD patients, specifically related to mental rotation and rotated object recognition. Previous research has shown that non-invasive brain stimulation via transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a safe, non-invasive, therapeutically useful tool in treating neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be used to improve cognitive and motor functions in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. There are no published reports to date, however, examining the efficacy of this technique in treating the cognitive and motor symptoms of HD.   One main goal of the present study is therefore to investigate the potential therapeutic benefits of tDCS on motor performance and visual functions in HD. The outcome could have important clinical implications for HD patients. A second focus will be to understand the effects of HD on two specific visuospatial processes, namely, mental rotation and rotated object recognition. Previous research on HD provides conflicting reports concerning the extent to which these two processes are affected in pre- and early-symptomatic HD patients. Systematic research into this aspect of HD is sorely lacking, however, and therefore another main goal of this project is to clarify the extent to which HD impairs these two key visuospatial abilities.

  • Sex hormone influences during rotated object recognition

    Sex hormone influences during rotated object recognition

    Recent evidence suggests that visuospatial transformation processes that are known to rely on dorsal stream visual areas (e.g., mental rotation) are temporarily suppressed during saccade execution, but that other aspects of higher-level visual cognition such as object recognition are relatively unaffected by such eye movements (Irwin & Brockmole, 2000, 2004). In this study, we ask whether this saccadic suppression generalizes to another visuospatial transformation process, namely, misoriented object recognition. Using fMRI, we recently demonstrated that misoriented object recognition and mental rotation result in distinct viewpoint-dependent brain activity, and that misoriented object recognition is not mediated by dorsal stream visual areas (Wilson & Farah, 2006). We therefore hypothesize that saccadic suppression would occur only for parietally-based visuospatial transformation processes, such as mental rotation, and not for temporally-based visuospatial transformation processes, such as misoriented object recognition.

  • The role of the cerebellum in autobiographical memory

    The role of the cerebellum in autobiographical memory

    Working with colleagues in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), this study is exploring whether the cerebellum plays a role in autobiographical memory (AM) – memory for specific events from the past. Neuroimaging studies of AM frequently report cerebellar activity, and anecdotal evidence from clinical studies suggests that AM may be disrupted in people with cerebellar damage. However, as yet, whether damage to the cerebellum is associated with impairments of AM function has not been investigated systematically. The specific role the cerebellum may perform in AM is also unknown. There is evidence to suggest that sequencing is a core function of the cerebellum, thus the cerebellum may be involved in correctly sequencing the details comprising the memory of an event. The primary purpose of the current study is to assess whether cerebellar pathology is associated with deficits in AM function, and to ascertain the role the cerebellum plays in AM, specifically whether it plays a role in sequencing the details of a memory.

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