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Cindy Bukach's Lab

Lab Description

The human visual system has an amazing capacity to recognize objects. For example, humans are able to identify thousands of faces across changes in viewpoint and lighting, and link these faces to a rich source of information from past episodes. These skills are often taken for granted, but selective loss of these abilities due to developmental disorders or acquired brain damage has devastating effects on environmental and social interactions. Evidence from both cognitively intact and impaired individuals reveals that brain regions responsible for object recognition are systematically organized, yet the object recognition system also shows evidence of remarkable plasticity as individuals develop expertise in identifying objects from new categories. Similar effects are found in second language acquisition as individuals acquire expertise in a new language. The study of perceptual expertise and second language acquisition provides a window both into the cognitive processes and neural organization of vision and memory, and also into the principles of cortical plasticity and learning.

In general, I am interested in how task demands, stimulus properties, neural biases, social context, and personal experience interact to produce the various patterns of neural and behavioral performance evoked by object and language recognition in cognitively intact and impaired individuals. In particular, I am interested in the following three questions:

  1. What are the neural and cognitive mechanisms that underlie perceptual expertise for categories such as faces, cars, and language?
  2. How does expertise develop and what determines how expertise transfers between categories (for both object categories and languages)?
  3. How do perceptual and social factors interact to produce the other-race-effect (better recognition for own than other race faces)?

The Cognitive Neuroscience lab uses both behavioral measures (typically computerized tasks), and electrophysiology. Electrophysiology measures changes in scalp voltage that reflect underlying neural activity. As neurons respond to events and task demands, the electrical signals produced by the neurons can be measured by sensors placed on the scalp, resulting in a wave that fluctuates over time between negative and positive polarity at each sensor. This enables us to see the underlying neural responses that are not obvious in behavioral measures alone.  We have just completed a brand new electrophysiology lab with state-of-the-art equipment.

Current Projects

  • Why is recognition of living things more vulnerable to brain damage than nonliving things? We currently have two studies using electrophysiology to answer this question.  One uses photos of real objects, the other uses novel geometric forms so that we can manipulate structural and conceptual properties of objects.
  • Are there different types of expertise (analytic vs. holistic), and if so, how would the neural mechanisms differ?  This project uses both behavioral and electrophysiology.
  • What factors determine when expertise will transfer? This study examines modern and antique car experts.
  • Can we improve face recognition skills in the general population?
  • Can we improve face recognition skills in developmental prosopagnosics (individuals who never developed normal face recognition ability)?
  • How do emotional expressions affect our ability to identify other race faces?
  • Do we process own race faces more holistically than other races faces?
  • What impact do social categories have on recognition of own and other race faces?
  • How do graphemes (printed words) affect our perception of phonemes (audiotory words) when we learn a second language?
  • Can lip reading help to overcome grapheme-phoneme interference when learning a second language?

Directions to Lab

The Cognitive Neuroscience Lab is located in Richmond Hall, Suite 212. Go to the top floor of Richmond Hall, turn right at the top of the stairs, then left.