The Kanwisher Lab studies the functional organization of the human mind and brain, with an emphasis on high-level vision.
Over the last ten years we have used fMRI to characterize a number of functionally distinct regions of human visual cortex, including the "fusiform face area" or FFA, which responds strongly and selectively when people view images of faces, the "parahippocampal place area" (PPA), which responds selectively to images of places, and the "extrastriate body area" (EBA), which responds selectively when subjects view images of human bodies or body parts. The selective responses of these regions are robust enough that each of them can be found, in the same approximate anatomical location, in virtually every normal subject scanned with fMRI. Thus, the FFA, PPA, and EBA are part of the basic functional architecture of human extrastriate cortex.
Core areas of research in our lab focus on these regions and others in high-level visual cortex, addressing the following questions:
(*) What is the nature of the information represented in each of these regions? For this work we used fMRI adaptation as well as pattern classification methods to ask what information is contained in the profile of fMRI response across the cortex.(*) How "domain specific" are these regions? That is, to what extent does each region process information about only its preferred class of stimuli?(*) What determines where each of these regions lands in the cortex with respect to each other; is each region best thought of as a discrete entity, or as part of a broader cortical map?(*) How do the responses of these regions, and the functional organization of visual cortex more broadly, change with experience?
In addition to these core areas of research, three new lines of work in the lab investigate related questions:
(*) How does all of this functional organization in the cortex arise in development? We have begun collaborating with Fishl and Wald at MGH who will bring the new technical innovations to pediatric neuroimaging; we will use these new methods to ask how the functional specificity of cortical regions arises in both in typically developing children and in people with autism.
(*) In collaboration with the DiCarlo lab, we are conducting paired fMRI studies in humans and macaques both to compare functional organization across species and to lay the groundwork for physiological investigations of these regions in macaques.
(*) Is functional specificity of the cortex found not only in high-level vision, but also in other domains of cognition? Past work in the lab has addressed cortical specializations for theory of mind and number, and ongoing work is asking about specificity of cortical regions for aspects of language processing.