Kanwisher Lab

Our lab investigates the functional organization of the brain as a window into the architecture of the human mind. (For more on this idea, see Nancy’s TED talk, this review article , or this web site.) In the past our lab has shown that a number of cortical regions are stunningly specialized for specific cognitive tasks such as the perception of faces, places, bodies, and visually presented words; one region that has been characterized by Rebecca Saxe is even specialized for thinking about what another person is thinking. More recently, Ev Fedorenko has resolved a longstanding debate in our field by demonstrating that the brain regions engaged in high-level language processing are specialized for language per se, and are not engaged by music, mental arithmetic, working memory, or cognitive control. Current work is tackling the functional organization of the superior temporal sulcus for high-level social perception, and finding within high-level auditory cortex specializations for speech and music (with Josh McDermott and Sam Norman-Haignere). We are also investigating (with Jason Fischer and Josh Tenenbaum) the brain regions engaged during physical reasoning, a pervasive aspect of everyday cognition that has barely been touched by cognitive neuroscience. Clearly, not all aspects of cognition can go on in a brain module specialized for just that one thing. We routinely solve novel problems no human has encountered before. With Ev Fedorenko and John Duncan, we have shown that regions in the parietal and frontal lobes, long hypothesized to be very generally engaged in a broad range of demanding cognitive tasks, are indeed domain-general by the most strict standards we can test with fMRI. This discovery greatly enriches the emerging picture of the architecture of the human mind and brain: it is composed not only of highly specialized regions, each of which operate on a specific kind of information content (faces, places, language, beliefs), but also of in very general-purpose machinery that enables us to tackle novel problems we have never confronted before. An important ongoing puzzle concenrs the computations that go on in these domain-general regions, as well as their interactions with other regions. Current work is attempting to better characterize the function of each of these regions, to search for new unpredicted specializations using data-driven discovery methods, and to discover the connectivity, developmental origins, and interspecies homologies of these regions. Other lines of work in our lab use behavioral methods, TMS to test the causal role of each brain region in cognition, mobile eye trackers (to study the statistics of the natural images that land not just on the web but on actual human retinae), and intracranial recordings (ECOG) with with Gerwin Schalk and Gabriel Kreiman to study audition (Sam Norman-Haignere), language processing (Ev Fedorenko), and social perception (Leyla Isik).

Clockwise from top left: Sarah, Caroline, Zeynep, Michael, Nancy, Jason, Sam, Matt, Ben, Ray, Idan, Charlie, Rosa, Harris, Leyla