Current research in the lab is interested in exploring some of the following themes:
Neural mechanisms of learning
Humans are capable of learning a seemingly infinite number of skills and complex behaviours. Yet, we have a poor understanding of the changes in neural activity patterns that accompany such learning, in general, and how such changes relate to the capacity for learning, in particular. Work in the lab is investigating the dynamics of neural activity patterns over the course of task-based learning and what they can tell us about the ease or difficulty with which some skills can be acquired and readily transferred to new contexts.
Neural links between memory and action
Working memory refers to the active maintenance and manipulation of behaviourally relevant information over short temporal intervals. To date, working memory has been predominantly studied using tasks in which individuals must recall some briefly presented sensory information (visual, auditory, etc.) in order to provide some type of perceptual report (e.g., was the current item in the previous list?). While important, this work captures only one facet of working memory; it is also used on a daily basis to consider, plan and guide our actions (e.g., eye and arm movements). Work in the lab is exploring the ways in which information stored in working memory is flexibly utilized to support action planning and control and, likewise, how exploiting motor-related processes might facilitate memory and recall.
Cognitive operations in functional and structural brain networks
It is increasingly recognized that complex cognitive operations and behaviours do not result from single brain areas acting in isolation but rather as a highly distributed, interconnected whole-brain network. Several lines of work in the lab are investigating how flexible interactions between brain regions underlie key facets of cognition, the underlying neuroanatomical pathways that support these interactions, as well as how disruptions in network function lead to deficits in behaviour.
Motor-related modulations of early sensory cortex
Although neuroscience studies have traditionally emphasized the feedforward, sensory-to-motor flow of information processing in the brain, it is well recognized that early sensory areas (e.g., primary visual, auditory and somatosensory cortex) receive significant feedback projections from higher-order brain areas. Work in the lab is investigating how top-down signals linked to action planning modulate representations in early sensory cortex.
Integrated mechanisms of decision-making and action planning
Understanding how the brain initially represents and decides between competing action options in the environment is a fundamental question in the neurosciences of decision-making and motor control. However, these two areas of research have largely evolved in isolation, and it is only recently that scientists have begun to examine the complex interplay between these processes. Work in the lab is exploring how the features and constraints of action planning and control can help shape decisions between multiple alternatives and, more generally, what action-related processing can tell us about how decisions, intentions and high-level goals are represented in the brain.
Interactions between dorsal and ventral visual pathways
Highly influential views of the primate visual system argue for a neuroanatomical division between the brain areas that support visual object recognition, located ventrally in occipitotemporal cortex (OTC), and the brain areas that support action planning and control, located dorsally in parietal cortex. While this dual pathway framework has provided a useful heuristic and tractable approach for studies of perception and action in isolation, it is clear that regular, everyday behaviours must involve direct and ongoing communication between these two pathways. Work in the lab is exploring how and where in the human brain this cross-talk between ventral and dorsal pathways occurs and how separately perturbing the activity of brain structures in each pathway affects goal-directed behaviour.