Research

Aims of the lab 

     We study vision in the primate brain. We focus on the cortex, specifically the area that allows object recognition: inferotemporal cortex or IT. IT contains neurons that will emit strong responses (a high number of action potentials) to the presence of visual categories like faces, body parts or places. Many of these category-preferring neurons cluster into large groups called "domains." Our proximate goal is to define the function and development of IT neurons and these category-preferring domains. Because IT neurons exist in both humans and other non-human primates, we perform our experiments in macaque monkeys. One key question is whether these cortical domains are innate (i.e. largely encoded by a genetic program) or learned (i.e. largely created by common early experience). 

How do we go about it? 

      We analyze IT neurons using functional imaging (fMRI), electrophysiology (single- and multi-electrode setups) and behavioral measures (looking behavior). To measure the relative contributions of genetic programs vs. intensive experience, we raise juvenile macaques under different conditions: for example, some are required to learn letters, numbers and other sets of human-made symbols in order to perform value tasks; others are never shown objects belonging to visual categories until they pass critical developmental windows. These early exposure effects change the response properties of IT neurons, which we can then define as described above.