Nancy has a new website with video lectures! Check it out here: nancysbraintalks.mit.edu
Our lab investigates the functional organization of the brain as a window into the architecture of the human mind. A recent review article summarizing much of this work can be downloaded here. 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, and bodies, and visually presented words; one region discovered 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 high-level auditory cortex (with Josh McDermott), and of regions in the superior temporal sulcus engaged in high-level social perception.
Clearly, though, we must have other processing abilities. We humans can solve novel problems no one has ever solved before. With Ev Fedorenko and John Duncan, we have recently 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.
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 and developmental origins of these regions.
From left to right: Caitlin, Kami, Josh, Michael, Beverly, Sam, John, Danny, Julie, Alex, Ben, Ev, Charlie, and Nancy.