Donders Centre for Cognition
My research focus lies in the domains of perception, memory and experience. The driving motivation behind my research has been the idea that we don’t see exactly what is out there in the world, but instead our brains actively construct our experience.
How exactly does the brain ‘decide’ what it sees? My recent postdoctoral work has focused on the interaction between cortical decision-making processes and subcortical neuromodulatory arousal systems when people make perceptual decisions under uncertain conditions – an interaction that is furthermore reflected in pupil dilation. Results of this research suggest that the phasic recruitment of arousal systems by the cortex is a major factor underlying how the brain actively constructs experience.
Research I coordinated during my PhD looked at the neural basis of individual differences in perception and memory, including synesthesia, and whether aberrant perceptual experiences can be acquired by training. We showed that simply reading books with consistently colored letters was sufficient to develop letter-color associations similar to those of synesthetes. Some of the participants reported that they had a color experience upon thinking or seeing the trained black letters – an effect that was reflected in their brains’ color region (area V4). The astounding implications of this research is that fundamental experiences, such as seeing color, are more modifiable than previously believed.
Outside of my fundamental research, I am interested in applying training techniques in order to boost attention and motivation in learning and to develop educational tools for the general public. In addition, I am passionate about interdisciplinary communication, especially engaging people to make a connection between science and art.