Margaret S. Livingstone, Ph.D.

Marge Livingstone

Distinct brain regions, reproducible from one person to the next, are specialized for processing different kinds of human expertise, such as face recognition and reading. We have recently begun to explore the relationship between age of learning, learning ability, and specialized brain structures.

We want to know whether the existence of reproducible cortical domains necessarily means that certain abilities are innate, or innately easily learned, or whether reproducible domains can be formed, or refined, by interactions between genetic programs and common early experience. We have generated novel, completely unnatural domains in monkeys by training them to choose between pairs of symbols to receive different reward amounts.  Conversely we prevented the development of face domains by raising monkeys while we wore welders masks so the monkeys never saw faces.  This double dissociation tells us that experience is critical for the development of specialized domains.