Kanwisher Lab


Recognizing objects in a complex visual image is so computationally taxing that even the best current computer vision programs do this task poorly at best. Yet we perform this small miracle with high accuracy and no apparent effort every time we cast our eyes on a new scene. Work in our lab investigates the cognitive and neural basis of face and object recognition in humans, as well as other related mysteries in visual cognition.

Over the last ten years we have used fMRI to characterize a number of functionally distinct regions of human visual cortex, including the "fusiform face area" or FFA, which responds strongly and selectively when people view images of faces, the "parahippocampal place area" (PPA), which responds selectively to images of places, and the "extrastriate body area" (EBA), which responds selectively when subjects view images of human bodies or body parts. The selective responses of these regions are robust enough that each of them can be found, in the same approximate anatomical location, in virtually every normal subject scanned with fMRI. Thus, the FFA, PPA, and EBA are part of the basic functional architecture of human extrastriate cortex.

Ongoing work in our lab focuses on these regions (plus the related "lateral occipital complex"), and addresses the following questions:
  • What is the nature of the representations these regions extract?
  • How "domain specific" are they? That is, to what extent does each region process and provide information about only its preferred class of stimuli?
  • How distinct are their borders (not just functionally, but anatomically)?
  • How do these regions arise in development?
  • How do their responses change with experience?

  • We also work in other areas of human cognition, including visual attention, mental imagery, response selection, understanding number, and understanding other minds.

    The methods used in our lab include fMRI scanning, behavioral measures, testing of neuropsychological patients, and magnetoencephalography-- whatever it takes to answer the question at hand.