The goal of research in our lab is to understand the neural architecture that underlies cognition, that is, the set of (relatively) fixed neural structures and processes that give rise to cognition. What are the parts, how do they work, and how do they interact to produce the mind? Ultimately, we would like to understand how the cognitive architecture is determined (e.g., which aspects are genetic), how the architecture changes as a result of experience and normal aging, and how it normally functions (in sufficient detail that we can implement it computationally). To that end, we have adopted a multidisciplinary approach that combines neuroimaging, computational modeling, and behavioral experimentation to make progress on these questions both theoretically and empirically. Here we briefly describe some of the progress we’ve made.
How does the brain change as we age? More specifically, how do neural representations change? And what are the implications for cognition? We’ve conducted a number of studies using functional MRI and behavioral methods to explore these questions.
Why do some people perform well on standardized tests while others struggle? Why do some adults age gracefully while others face increasing levels of cognitive decline? These individual differences in behavior likely are the result of individual differences in the brain that cannot be seen with traditional group-averaged studies. We’re currently using person-specific techniques to investigate the neural basis of individual differences, with behavioral experiments, fMRI, and TMS.
NATURE AND NURTURE
To what extent is the neural architecture underlying cognition controlled by our genes? To what extent is it modified by experience? We’ve gained insight into these questions by studying the brains of twins, by examining how learning to read changes the brain, and by developing neural models that simulate how experience might change the brain.
How is reading implemented in the brain? How does the brain represent written language and how do those representations develop? We’ve explored these questions using a combination of behavioral experiments, neuroimaging experiments, and computational models.
How does cognition arise out of neural processing units? How are mental concepts represented in neurons and how do those representations develop? How do neurons hold on to information temporarily and why does that information decay over time? We’ve built a number of computational simulations to explore mechanisms that could address these questions.
ADDICTION & APPLIED WORK
Can neuroimaging be used to address real-world problems in medicine and business? Using functional MRI, we found that there are differences in the brain activity patterns of smokers who quit vs. smokers who don’t. We also examined whether the same neural mechanisms are involved when thinking about brands and thinking about people.