Understanding visual learning
Understanding how the human brain learns to perceive objects is one of the fundamental challenges in neuroscience. The dominant approach for studying object learning involves experiments with infants. This work has yielded valuable results, but the operational difficulties of working with babies limit the complexity of studies one can conduct.
Project Prakash allows us to adopt a powerful complementary approach. The Prakash initiative is beginning to create a remarkable population of children across a wide age-range who are just setting out on the enterprise of learning how to see. We have begun following the development of visual skills in these unique children to gain insights into fundamental questions regarding object learning and brain plasticity. A particular strength of this approach is that it affords us an opportunity to continuously follow the development of visual skills and associated neural markers from before the sight restoration treatment to after.
The experimental data we have gathered so far has already begun challenging some long held conceptions regarding brain plasticity and time-lines of learning. We are finding that the human brain retains an ability to acquire complex visual tasks even after several years of congenital blindness. The patterns of errors that the children make in our controlled experiments allow us to infer the nature of object representations. We are complementing these studies with brain imaging to assess topographical changes in cortical organization as a function of time past surgery and their correlations with the behaviorally observed skill acquisition.
These efforts have begun yielding data that constrain and guide theoretical models of visual learning and recognition.
Bouvrie, J. V. and Sinha, P. (To appear). Object concept learning: Observations in congenitally blind children and a computational model. Neurocomputing.
Ostrovsky, Y., Andalman, A. and Sinha, P. (under review). Vision following extended congenital blindness.