My current research is concerned with the fundamental question of how the human brain accomplishes our perception of the world. Despite this perhaps seeming trivial from a subjective point of view, in fact even today’s best computer systems are vastly inferior to what biology has achieved in humans (or other animals). I use the tools of cognitive neuroscience & psychophysics in order to explore this broad question (including fMRI, EEG and in the near future, TMS). In particular we use brain decoding techniques in order to determine what information is coded in particular brain regions.
Current Research Projects
Perception & Production of Facial Expressions of Emotion
I have a longstanding interest in how we process human faces for signals of high biological value, such as facial expressions. In the lab we are pursuing behavioural experiments which seek to characterize the basic environmental constraints that underlie successful signalling of the basic expression categories and neuroimaging studies (using fMRI & EEG) to determine how recognition is accomplished (including testing the embodied account of emotion recognition). I am also interested in how these mechanisms are altered in specific mental health disorders (e.g. Psychosis) or neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. Autism). Together with colleagues in Clinical Psychology, we are currently investigating whether basic aspects of emotion perception are altered in individuals at high risk of developing Psychosis.
How context shapes early sensory Processing
I also have a strong interest in how the brain uses contextual information to make intelligent guesses about what is present in our world. In previous work we have used occlusion and natural visual scenes, together with fMRI, to demonstrate such processes are evident in early regions of visual cortex (i.e. primary visual cortex) and have further investigated how information from different sensory modalities can shape processing in such regions. Current work in this area uses neuroimaging methods (fMRI & EEG) to investigate how missing information from partial faces (e.g. showing a face with the eyes or mouth hidden from view) may be predicted in primary visual cortex, and how task goals shape such processing (explicit and implicit perception of emotion). Work in this line has been funded by the British Academy (‘Predicting the hidden features of emotional faces in early visual cortex’).
I am also investigating how early sensory brain areas use contextual cues from other senses to make predictions about what might be experienced next. In particular a further British Academy Grant (together with Stephanie Rossit) investigates whether Predictive Coding can account for such contextual sensitivity in early sensory areas (‘Does Predictive Coding explain multisensory processing in early somatosensory cortex?’).
I have been a co-investigator on two awards from the BIAL foundation (Portugal) where we are using brain reading (MVPA or Decoding) in collaboration with Stephanie Rossit (UEA) to determine the neural representations involved in real tool use, and with Louis Renoult (UEA) to investigate how memories form.