Topics

What Kinds of Minds and Brains Do We Have?

Nancy's TED talk: A neural portrait of the human mind
This talk describes brain imaging research conducted over the last 15 years that has discovered a number of regions of the human brain, each of which conducts a remarkably specific mental function, from perceiving visual motion, to understanding language, to thinking about what other people are thinking.
Modular Design of the Human Brain
This talk discusses “modular design”, the idea that the mind and brain are composed of distinct components, each carrying out a different function. I discuss what the idea is, why it makes sense from an engineering perspective, the controversial nature of the idea, why it matters, and what broad unanswered questions it...
Humans are a highly social species
Perceiving, understanding and interacting with other people is at the core of what it means to be human, and brain regions supporting different aspects of social cognition take up a large area of the cortex.
The Neuroanatomy Lesson
MIT neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher bares all to teach neuroanatomy.
The Neuroanatomy Lesson (Director's Cut)
With the help of neuro artist & grad student Rosa Lafer-Sousa, Nancy goes to ludicrous extremes to show you where in the head some of the functionally specific brain regions lie.
A diagram of brain regions from the early 20th century
<p>Nancy describes the history of attempts to localize functionally specific regions in the brain, from the 18th century onwards.</p>
3D brain, with functional regions highlighted in color
<p>Nancy discusses what it means for a particular cognitive function to &quot;live&quot; in a specific area of the brain.<br /> &nbsp;</p>

How Can You Study the Human Mind and Brain

What happens when you stimulate the face area?
In this astonishing video from Josef Parvizi and Kalanit Grill-Spector at Stanford, you meet a man who has electrodes right on his face area (for medical reasons), and he tells us what he sees when that region of his brain is stimulated.
Many ways to understand a mental process
Cognition can be studied in many different ways, including introspection, computational theory, measuring behavior, monitoring neural activity, and even disrupting neural activity.
This talk uses face perception as a case study to illustrate the power of low-tech behavioral methods; observations from reaction and time and accuracy in face perception tasks reveal “signatures” of face recognition (inversion effects, composite effects, part-whole effects) that yield fundamental insights about how we...
How do you ask a preverbal infant what she can see?
A simple but powerful method called "habituation of looking time" enables developmental psychologists to discover what a preverbal infant sees, understands, and expects
What is fMRI?
The bare basics on functional MRI, a noninvasive method for measuring neural activity in the human brain with (almost) millimeter resolution.
Watch Nancy's brain get zapped with transcranial magnetic stimulation
Measuring neural activity (with fMRI, MEG, ERPs, etc) cannot tell you which brain regions or neural responses are necessary for a given aspect of perception or cognition. To find out if a region is necessary, you have to mess with it. One method to do this in humans is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Face Perception

What happens when you stimulate the face area?
In this astonishing video from Josef Parvizi and Kalanit Grill-Spector at Stanford, you meet a man who has electrodes right on his face area (for medical reasons), and he tells us what he sees when that region of his brain is stimulated.
Shortcomings of human face recognition
In some situations, humans are surprisingly bad at face recognition.
Individual differences in face recognition and developmental prosopagnosia
People differ markedly from each other in their face recognition ability. Face recognition ability is heritable and is not correlated with IQ, and some otherwise normal, perfectly smart people are so bad at face recognition they routinely fail to recognize close friends and family members.
How good are we at face recognition
Until very recently, humans were much better at face recognition than any computer vision system. But all of a sudden computers seem to be nearly matching human performance. But might we still be better than computers in more real-world face recognition tasks?
This talk uses face perception as a case study to illustrate the power of low-tech behavioral methods; observations from reaction and time and accuracy in face perception tasks reveal “signatures” of face recognition (inversion effects, composite effects, part-whole effects) that yield fundamental insights about how we...
It was once thought that face recognition takes abut ten years to develop fully, but more recent research shows that adult-like face recognition is present at the earliest ages scientists have been able to test it.
Experience with faces does affect our face recognition abilities, but not in the way you might expect.
Here I describe the basic fMRI evidence for the fusiform face area, how we test alternative hypotheses to face specificity, and the functional region of interest method.

fMRI: Imaging of the Human Brain at Work

What is fMRI?
The bare basics on functional MRI, a noninvasive method for measuring neural activity in the human brain with (almost) millimeter resolution.
The bare bones of the design and analysis of a very simple fMRI experiment, and some basic terminology.
Watch a very simple fMRI experiment
Watch my lab tech Jenelle Feather scan me on that very simple experiment while course TA (and MIT graduate student) Hilary Richardson narrates.
Here I describe the basic fMRI evidence for the fusiform face area, how we test alternative hypotheses to face specificity, and the functional region of interest method.
An important challenge to the specificity of the fusiform face area
In a paper published in 2001 Jim Haxby made the important point that a region of the brain can contain information about classes of stimuli that it does not respond to above baseline, if the pattern of response across voxels in that region differ stably for one class versus another. In other words, even if the response of...
<p>Nancy discusses how we can use fROIs to explore human cognition, and why it provides unique advantages over other functional imaging methods.</p>
Functionally Characterizing Regions with Response Profiles
How do we figure out not just what a region likes (i.e., responds to most), but what it does? One way is to measure its response to a lot of other kinds of stimuli, that is measure its "response profile".
Functional MRI adaptation
How can we tell what information is represented in each voxel or region? Even if the mean response of the voxel is the same to the two kinds of stimuli, different neural populations in the voxel may respond to the two stimuli, and if so those populations of neurons can represent the difference between those stimuli. This...
Multiple Voxel Pattern Analysis
Multiple voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) is the other method (besdies fMRI adaptation) that enables us to figure out what information is repesented in a given region. If the pattern of response across voxels in that region is stably different for one kind of stimulus, from the pattern for another kind of stimulus, then the...
A few tips for critically evaluating fMRI studies
Here I give a few tips for evaluating published fMRI studies by pointing out three common flaws in imaging studies.

Guest Lectures