One of the tools and a participant

The Tools

We often begin by studying behavior. Then we use functional imaging (fMRI) to reveal brain regions that support an evolutionarily shared behavioural ability. We then test evolutionary relationships. To assist translational medicine we combine MRI with neurophysiology to understand how the neuronal mechanisms supports perceptual and cognitive abilities. This includes in our current work aiming to proposing strategies for how we might improve communication comprehension.

Research Directions

The guiding questions we are pursuing are:

I. How does perception become more than sensation?

II. What is the evolutionary and neural basis for human speech and language?

III. Can the perception of communication be improved by multisensory processes or other interventions?

IV. Can we increase the rate of success of cognitive brain treatments developed from animal models by better understanding the evolutionary relationships that have changed the brains of different species?

Why is this important?

I. How does perception become more than sensation?

We oeftn fogret taht waht we precieev is oeftn not phasycally tehre.

Every experience is the brain interpreting our environment, but it's still not clear how the brain does this. We use illusions and other natural phenomena to dissociate sensation from perception and reveal how the brain shapes and stabilizes our perceptions. Also, how do cognitive abilities (like attention) assist perception and how is brain function disrupted by certain brain disorders, like dyslexia or age-related cognitive impairment?

II. What is the evolutionary and neural basis for human communication?

When the topic is human communication most people will naturally think of human language (which is a rather unique communication system). But there is tremendous information in our voice. For instance, we are very sensitive to human voices and we can readily recognize others by listening to their voice (except if some parts of our brain are injured). Our vocal inflections also have emotional content which relay what we feel, and what we hope to elicit in others. This means that our communication system is fundamentally a social one, and many other social animals share the basic aspects of our vocal communication. Having made this conceptual link allows us to study the communication system of humans and other species, from each animal's unique perspectives. This work will establish evolutionary relationships and get us closer to the difficult to answer questions, like: How did human language evolve?

III. What more can we learn about human brain function by establishing further evolutionary relationships for perceptual and cognitive abilities related to communication?

Even with the best current technologies it is not possible to fully understand human brain function and dysfunction. Much of what medical science knows is because of studies in other animals. In our work we aim to bridge the large gap between the human studies and work in other animals by using the same noninvasive brain imaging technology (fMRI) that has become the main tool for studying human brain function. This approach is indispensible for making additional evolutionary relationships that could be critical for helping medical science to understand human brain function when the human studies themselves cannot answer the questions.