Stephen A Engel
The simple acts of recognizing a friend's face, or noticing the color of their hair, require an enormous amount of work by our brains. My lab focuses on understanding this work. We use the methods of cognitive neuroscience to characterize precisely how neurons in the human brain support visual perception. Most of our experiments combine behavioral measurements of perception with functional MRI or EEG measurements of neural activity.
One main topic under investigation is plasticity in the visual system. We are currently investigating the extent to which the adult visual system can modify itself through visual adaptation and learning. The adaptation work investigates how the visual system responds to changes in the environment, using a novel "altered reality" system based on VR technology, that allows users to see in a world that is just like ours, but that differs in a controlled way. We are currently studying, for example, how the visual system changes when we remove (or enhance) all vertical lines from what subjects see, over periods of minutes, hours, and even multiple days.
We also are applying the lessons we have learned to aid clinical therapies. One project is examining the effects of using altered reality to allow people with macular degeneration to view displays where the information hidden behind their scotomas is remapped to another part of the visual field. We also have projects applying knowledge of neuroplasticity to aid therapies for strabismus and amblyopia.