Cognition Workshop 12/01: Dr. Rebecca Keogh

Understanding and measuring visual imagery in congenital aphantasia (absent visual imagery) and it’s relation to other cognitive functions

Visual imagery is our ability to ‘see with the mind’s eye’ and the vividness with which people report being able to visualise varies substantially with some people reporting incredibly strong lifelike imagery while others report very weak imagery. A recently identified group (congenital aphantasia) report not experiencing any visual imagery at all. Due to its inherently private nature, one of the main hurdles to overcome in visual imagery research is objectively and reliably measuring individual differences in the ability to visualise. In my presentation I will report on some behavioural (binocular rivalry) and physiological (skin conductance and pupillometry) measures that can be used to index visual imagery strength in the general population, as well as the lack of visual imagery in congenital aphantasia. I will then also discuss how cortical excitability might drive individual differences in visual imagery strength, touching on our recent findings that show that a less excitable visual cortex produces the strongest visual imagery. Lastly, I will talk about how individual differences in visual imagery ability may influence a range of cognitive functions, specifically assessing the relationship between visual imagery and memory, in congenital aphantasia.

Cognition Workshop 11/17: Dr. Emily Cowan

How consolidation supports adaptive memories

We rely on our ability to recall the past to guide behavior in the present. However, since we cannot remember everything we encounter, it is adaptive for memory systems to prioritize retaining salient, goal-relevant information. Memories are thought to be stabilized in the brain as they become supported by distributed neocortical networks, facilitated by interactions between the hippocampus and cortex, particularly during periods of sleep. My research focuses on understanding the adaptive nature of consolidation processes, examining how consolidation not only prioritizes the retention of goal-relevant memories, but also reorganizes the way memories are represented within and across brain regions. Through such transformation, memories for related but distinct experiences can become integrated, leading to an abstracted trace that can be flexibly generalized to future experiences. In this talk I’ll present three studies examining how consolidation supports such adaptive prioritization and transformation processes, using behavioral measures and functional neuroimaging methods including task-based and resting-state functional connectivity and multivariate pattern analyses. I’ll present data showing sleep-dependent changes in the organization of memories in cortical regions and along the long-axis of the hippocampus, as well as work examining the scale of cortical regions that undergo such experience-dependent changes in service of selectively retaining novel information.

Cognition Workshop 11/3: Max Kramer & Andrew Savoy

What makes something memorable?: Analyzing the Memorability of Objects

Max Kramer

A growing body of research has demonstrated that certain stimuli are consistently remembered more often than others, even across large heterogeneous populations (Isola et al, 2011), leading many to ask, “what makes something memorable?” This consistency in what is remembered and what is forgotten has been hypothesized to reflect an intrinsic and measurable property of stimuli known as memorability (Bainbridge, 2019). In attempting to determine why we remember certain things and forget others, some researchers have hypothesized that the most memorable stimuli are the most atypical or distinctive (Valentine, 1991) while others suggest that the most typical items are most often remembered (Bainbridge, Dilks, & Oliva, 2017; Bainbridge & Rissman, 2018). Here, we examine THINGS, a hierarchical naturalistic object image database that systematically samples all concrete object concepts to determine whether the most typical or atypical items are most often remembered. We collect behavioral ratings of memorability from 13,946 AMT participants to compare to three different types of typicality ratings. We collect behavioral ratings of typicality to capture human intuition, similarity scores across the dimensions of an object space associated with THINGS, and similarities across features in a deep neural network. We find a spread of memorability that persists across all levels of THINGS and determine that there is a bias towards the most typical items being most often remembered, though there are counterexamples across the dataset. These results run counter to decades of research in memory, suggesting potential targets for future analyses.



Perception and evaluation of courtship song in female songbirds during mate choice 

Andrew Savoy

Mate choice is a complex psychological and behavioral process. It is also a central agent of the evolutionary theory of sexual selection. Insights from cognitive neuroscience are essential for understanding mate choice but are largely absent from studies of it. I study courtship display preferences and the corresponding neural signals of perception and evaluation. For this workshop I will present my rationale and methodology for testing two hypotheses pertaining female zebra finch responses to courtship song—one regarding temporal regularity in song and the other regarding song familiarity. This research has the potential to valuably extend the scope of our knowledge about sexual selection mechanisms while also deepening our neurobiological understanding of fundamental cognitive processes.

Cognition Workshop 10/20: Anna Corriveau

Connectome stability and typicality as markers of cognitive performance

Although sustained attention and working memory are essential to daily life, individual abilities vary. Whole-brain fMRI functional connectivity is a useful tool for building brain-based markers of cognition and has been used to identify network models of sustained attention (Rosenberg et al., 2016) and working memory (Avery et al., 2020). Further, there is evidence that features of whole-brain functional connectivity patterns, or connectomes, are related to brain function (Kaufmann et al., 2017; Vanderwal et al., 2021). Here, we define three connectome features—stability, typicality, and discriminability—that characterize connectome similarity with oneself and within a group. We then test the extent to which these features predict sustained attention and working memory task performance in three independent datasets (total N=421). Results suggest that individuals with more stable (i.e., similar to oneself across fMRI runs) and typical (i.e., similar to the group-average) connectomes perform better on these tasks. These results demonstrate the utility of including whole-brain connectome features in developing predictive models of cognitive abilities such as sustained attention and working memory.

Cognition Workshop 10/6: Dr. Michael A. Cohen

What is the bandwidth of perceptual experience? Evidence from virtual reality

How much information are we aware of in the visual world? While this question appears rather simple, answering it has been remarkably difficult and extremely controversial. Traditionally, researchers examine the limits of perceptual experience by changing individual items in a scene and seeing how often observers notice those changes (e.g., failing to notice a bowl disappearing/changing). Here, we took a different approach and asked how much we could alter an entire scene before observers noticed those global alterations. Specifically, we used a combination of standard psychophysics (i.e., computer displays) and gaze-contingent virtual reality (i.e., VR) to alter the scenes in one of two ways: 1) desaturating the periphery to render it entirely in black and white or 2) scrambling the periphery so much that no object could be detected or identified. Surprisingly, we found that observers routinely failed to notice drastic changes to that scene (e.g., presenting only 5% of the world in color while the rest was black and white, completely scrambling the periphery of a scene, etc.). Together, these results suggest that perceptual experience may be remarkably impoverished and that our intuitive sense of a detailed, colorful world is surprisingly incorrect.

Cognition Workshop 6/2: Dr. Jonathan Phillips

How we know what not to think

Humans have an unrivaled ability to represent and reason about unrealized possible actions – the vast infinity of things that were not (or have not yet been) chosen. This capacity is central to the most impressive of our capacities: causal reasoning, planning, linguistic communication, moral judgment, etc. Nevertheless, not a great deal is known about how we select possible actions that are worth considering from the infinity of unrealized actions that are better left ignored. I’ll review research across the cognitive sciences, and argue that the possible actions considered by default are those that are both likely to occur and generally valuable. I’ll then point to a unified theory of why, proposing that (i) across diverse cognitive tasks, the possible actions we consider are biased towards those of general practical utility, and (ii) a plausible primary function for this mechanism resides in decision making. I’ll end by presenting new empirical evidence for such a mechanism in decision making.

Cognition Workshop 5/19: Emily Silver

Violence Exposure and Adolescents’ Autonomic Regulation

Interpersonal violence exposure is associated with adolescent maladjustment across the domains of mental health (e.g., traumatic stress), interpersonal functioning (e.g., conflictual relationships, dating violence, sexual risk behavior), and health risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual risk). Substantial variability in the responses of adolescents presents a need to identify mechanisms that explain how and why interpersonal violence exposure leads to adjustment problems. Violence exposure is believed to alter autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulation in ways that contribute to functional impairments in cognition, emotion, and behavior. Alterations in ANS development following violence exposure may prime adolescents to perceive the social environment as threatening and promote maladaptive patterns of threat-related responses to non-violent stressors. Preliminary data from a short-term longitudinal study of adolescent girls with a history of interpersonal violence (IPV) exposure demonstrates that measures of autonomic cardiac control are related to violence exposure. I will also describe how utilizing a virtual reality paradigm can provide an ecologically valid framework for studying individual differences in adolescents’ stress regulation and associations with violence-related sequelae.

Cognition Workshop 5/5: Dr. Mariam Aly

How hippocampal memory shapes, and is shaped by, attention

Attention modulates what we see and remember. Memory affects what we attend to and perceive. Despite this connection in behavior, little is known about the mechanisms that link attention and memory in the brain. One key structure that may be at the interface between attention and memory is the hippocampus. Here, I’ll explore the hypothesis that the relational representations of the hippocampus allow it to critically contribute to bidirectional interactions between attention and memory. First, I’ll show — in a series of human fMRI studies — that attention creates state-dependent patterns of activity in the hippocampus, and that these representations predict both online attentional behavior and memory formation. Then, I’ll provide neuropsychological evidence that hippocampal damage impairs performance on attention tasks that tax relational representations, particularly spatial relational representations. Furthermore, cholinergic modulation (from nicotine) may play a role enhancing this form of hippocampal attention and perception. Finally, I’ll demonstrate that hippocampal memories enable preparation for upcoming attentional states, particularly when those attentional states are guided by memory. Together, this line of work highlights the tight links between attention and memory – links that are established, at least in part, by the hippocampus.

Cognition Workshop 4/28: Andrew Sheriff

Long-range respiratory and theta oscillation networks depend on spatial sensory context

Recent studies have shown widespread interactions between the nasally driven respiratory rhythm and neural oscillations in hippocampus and neocortex. With this study, we address how the respiratory rhythm interacts with ongoing slow brain rhythms across olfactory, hippocampal and visual systems in freely moving rats. Patterns of network connectivity change with behavioral state, with stronger interactions at fast and slow respiratory frequencies during foraging as compared to home cage activity. Routing of interactions between sensory cortices depends on the modality of spatial cues present during foraging. Functional connectivity analyses suggest strong bidirectional interactions between olfactory and hippocampal systems related to respiration and point to the piriform cortex as a key area for mediating respiratory and theta rhythms.

Cognition Workshop 4/21: Dr. Caroline Robertson

How memory meets perception during naturalistic scene understanding

As we navigate our visual world, what we see is seamlessly integrated with our memory of the broader environment. One long-standing puzzle in neuroscience is how perceptual and mnemonic systems – which are topographically distinct in the brain – interface to give rise to memory-guided visual experience. In this talk, I will present a series of studies using head-mounted virtual reality and fMRI to explore this question. First, we investigated the neural basis of scene perception and memory using fine-grained individual-subject fMRI. To our surprise, this analysis revealed a new network of brain areas that collectively bridge the scene perception and spatial memory systems of the human brain, the “place memory network” (Steel et al., Nat Coms, In Press). Specifically, we reveal three areas, each lying immediately anterior to a region of the scene perception network in posterior cerebral cortex, that selectively activate when recalling familiar real-world locations. Despite their close proximity to the scene-perception areas, network analyses show that these regions constitute a distinct functional network that interfaces with memory systems during naturalistic scene understanding. We hypothesize that these regions may provide remembered, contextual representations to support ongoing perception. In a second study, we use head-mounted virtual reality (VR) and behavior to test whether memory for a broad spatial environment, in fact, impacts ongoing scene perception in behavior. Using a priming paradigm, we show that a briefly presented scene view reinstates associated views of the panoramic environment, facilitating subsequent perception. Together, these studies illuminate how perceptual and mnemonic systems interact during naturalistic visual experience, and point to a new mechanistic step for understanding how the brain implements memory-guided visual behaviors in posterior cerebral cortex.