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Research Topics

Research at our lab deals with the neural basis of attention and action. The actions are usually simple ones—a twitch of the ear, eye blink, or voluntary key-press with the index finger. To understand the brain activity that underlies these responses, we use standard methods developed by neurologists and brain scientists. These include EEG/EMG recordings, in which sensors with wires are attached to skin, and functional neuroimaging, in which the participant reacts to a video display while lying in an MRI scanner.

Here are the main topics we are investigating:

Anticipation of Rewards. When a person is expecting feedback about whether they made a correct response, there are predictable changes in their reflexes (e.g., startle-blink and postauricular reflexes) and brain waves (e.g., the SPN, or Stimulus-Preceding Negativity). Some of these changes are reduced in people with Parkinson's disease, which could account for certain symptoms related to motivation and learning.

Attention and Awareness. When completely different displays are presented to the left and right eyes, one of the two images is predictably blocked from conscious awareness. By comparing the brain processes triggered by the ignored and attended displays, we are able to draw inferences about the neural basis of consciousness.

Pinna Orienting and Emotion. Although the muscles attached to our ears are vestigial, they still try to point our ears at stimuli we are attending to and change the ears’ shape as we express emotions. We are trying to document these surprising phenomena and use them to develop better measures of attention and emotion.

Working Memory. Attention determines which items are held in short-term storage for use during on-going tasks. One reason people with Parkinson's disease have memory problems is that it is harder for them to ignore irrelevant information. We are using MRI and EEG methods (e.g., the CDA, or Contralateral Delay Activity) to test different hypotheses about why this is so.

Masaki et al., in preparation

Masaki et al., in preparation