Kanwisher Lab


Walid Bendris (wbendris at mit dot edu)
I recently completed my BS and MS in Biomedical Engineering at RPI with a minor in cognition and am now working as a technical assistant at the Kanwisher Lab on a project about compositional semantics. I've worked on projects involving sustainability, tissue engineering, image analysis, cognitive modeling, and gait biometrics analysis. My interests mainly lie in the fields of cognition, sensation and perception, biomimetics, prosthesis, and brain-computer interfacing. .
Idan Blank (iblank at mit dot edu)
I am interested in language as a window to cognition. Working with Nancy and with Ev Fedorenko, I hope to specifically address questions at the intersection of semantics and epistemology: What does it mean "to understand" something? Can we define "meaning" in a cognitively significant way? How is it represented in the brain? How do language mechanisms interact with other cognitive functions to construct meaning? To start addressing such issues, I currently use fMRI to explore the resting-state functional connectivity of language and multiple-demand regions, and also employ MEG to study the processing of abstract object meanings.
Michael Cohen (michaelthecohen at gmail dot com)
I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Kanwisher Lab. Before starting at MIT, I completed my PhD at Harvard University working with Ken Nakayama and George Alvarez. While in graduate school, I used a combination of visual psychophysics and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to characterize the relationship between perceptual capacity and the functional organization of the visual system. Broadly, I am interested in the limits of human perception and how different mechanisms (i.e. attention, neural organization, etc.) determine the contents of conscious experience. Going forward, I hope to extend the findings I have made in the realm of visual perception to other modalities and domains: auditory, long-term memory, cognitive development, and so forth. More information about me can be found on my website.
Jenelle Feather (jfeather at mit dot edu)
I am a technical assistant in the kanwisher lab! I plan to start graduate school this fall in Berkeley/UCSF's bioengineering PhD program and study the cortical mechanisms of the auditory system. I am interested in questions such as how do stages of the auditory system interact and how do top down mechanisms modulate the responses in lower levels of the hierarchy? I graduated from MIT in June 2013 with a bachelor's degree in physics and brain and cognitive science, and before coming to the kanwisher lab I worked on several research projects in systems neurosciece and theoretical physics.
Evelina Fedorenko (evelina9 at mit dot edu)
I am interested in the question of the extent of domain specificity in the mind and brain with regard to language and other cognitive systems. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Kanwisher lab, I use functional MRI to investigate the extent of domain specificity, as well as the internal functional organization, of language in the human brain. I am also pursuing a number of related projects, in collaboration with the Gibson lab and the Saxe lab (see my website for more details on my past and current research).
Jason Fischer (jason_f at mit dot edu)
At a given moment, only a fraction of the visual information that reaches the brain is crucial for the task at hand; the remainder can be distracting and deleterious to performance. I want to know how the brain identifies and suppresses distracting input, what the neural fate of ignored information is, and what happens when the brain's system for ignoring distractions breaks down. To that end, in my graduate work with Dr. David Whitney at UC Berkeley, I studied how selective attention gates visual responses in the human cortex and thalamus. As a postdoctoral scholar in the Kanwisher Lab, in collaboration with Dr. Yuhong Jiang at the University of Minnesota, I am extending this research to investigate visual attention in people with autism spectrum disorder, using fMRI and psychophysics. I'm particularly interested in whether and how attentional deficits might underlie some of the core clinical symptoms of autism. You can find more information about my current projects and publications on my website.
Sam Gershman (sjgershm at mit dot edu)
You may never have read this blurb before, but you can immediately understand it. How does our brain comprehend arbitrarily complex thoughts with a finite number of neurons? As a postdoctoral fellow in the Tenenbaum and Kanwisher labs, my research uses brain imaging and computational models to study the machinery underlying the infinite productivity of thought. Before coming to MIT, I earned my Ph.D. in Psychology and Neuroscience from Princeton University, where I worked with Ken Norman and Yael Niv. You can learn more about my research by visiting my website .
Katherine Hermann (khermann at mit dot edu)
As a research assistant, I’m working on a project exploring the basis of atypical visual processing in Autism using fMRI and other imaging tools. I’m also looking at how people knit together views of panoramic scenes. Before joining the lab, I studied the cerebellum at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. I received my BA from the University of Colorado.
Nancy Kanwisher (ngk at mit dot edu)
Lucky me! I get to work with all the brilliant and wonderful people on this page, and to think about cool questions like these: How are objects, faces, and scenes represented in the brain, and (how) do the representations of each of these classes of stimuli differ from each other? How are visual representations affected by attention, awareness, and experience? Which mental processes get their own special patch of cortex, why is it these processes and (apparenly) not others, and how do special-purpose bits of brain arise in the first place?
Charlie (Charlie at mit dot edu)

Alex Kell (alexkell at mit dot edu)
I study hearing. I'm a second-year graduate student in BCS working with Nancy and Josh McDermott. In one current project I'm examining the functional organization of auditory cortex. In another I am studying the optimal cochlear nonlinearities given the statistics of natural sounds. Generally, my work blends computation, brain measurements [fMRI], and psychophysics. I'm supported by the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship.
Rosa Lafer-Sousa (rlaferso at mit dot edu)
I am a first-year graduate student in BCS seeking to shed light on the overall architecture of the ventral visual pathway and establish direct links between neural activity and perception. As an amateur visual artist, my interest in Vision stems from an interest in the intersection of Vision and Art; asking, to what extent can the study (and practice) of art inform an understanding of the visual system and vice versa? Most recently, in my pre-doctoral work in the lab of Dr. Bevil Conway, we discovered that color-selective cortical regions lie systematically adjacent to face-selective cortical regions in the ventral visual pathway in monkeys. Using fMRI in humans, my present work in the Kanwisher lab aims to 1) test whether similar functional organization is found in humans and 2) discover homologous regions in human and monkey brains that might allow us to extend the impact of knowledge obtained through invasive techniques in monkeys.
Sam Norman-Haignere (svnh at mit dot edu)
I’m a 4th year graduate student working with Nancy Kanwisher and Josh McDermott. My research focuses on understanding the organization of the human auditory system, using tools that have been influential in the study of visual processing. One line of work is focused on characterizing the global organization of auditory cortex using neuroimaging and computational modeling. A second line of work is focused on understanding the mechanisms of pitch perception, a classic problem that has inspired debate among hearing scientists for over a century. More information about my research can be found on my webpage.
Matt Peterson (mfpeters at mit dot edu)
How does the brain learn to actively select visual information for the rapid and reliable recognition of the many socially relevant cues available from the human face? My graduate work under the supervision of Miguel Eckstein at UC Santa Barbara combined psychophysics, eye tracking, and computational modeling to understand why people consistently choose (individually) specific places to look on faces. In the Kanwisher lab, I hope to add neuroimaging to this set of techniques to investigate how eye movements interact with the neural representations of faces to achieve the impressive invariance with which the brain perceives facial identities. Additional work, in collaboration with Ken Nakayama at Harvard, will look to define and quantify the visual information that is available in dynamic social situations to guide social behavior, and the neural computations and representations responsible for these processes.
Caroline Robertson (carolinerobertson at fas dot harvard dot edu)
I'm interested in the marriage of sensory and cognitive signals in the human brain. Can we use vision to infer patterns of cognition? What neural architecture is common to both perception and thought? This intersection is particularly relevant to our understanding of mental conditions, such as Autism and ADHD, in which different patterns of higher-order cognition are mirrored in the way individuals visually engage with the world. I am a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Kanwisher lab. Please see my website for more details about my research. .
Zeynep Saygin (zsaygin at mit dot edu)
I recently received my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from MIT under the advising of Drs. John Gabrieli and Rebecca Saxe. My research explores the relationship between neuroanatomical connectivity, measured through diffusion weighted imaging (DWI), and the neural responses underlying high-level vision and cognition. By linking connectivity patterns with neural response profiles, I hope to shed some light on the physical mechanisms which ultimately result in human behavior. To help us accomplish this, we're excitedly collaborating with the Fischl and Wald labs at MGH, and using the new and one-of-a-kind Connectom scanner, which is designed for ultra high-resolution DWI. Keep an eye out for fresh Connectom results hopefully soon! For more information about my research please check out my website.
Former Lab Members