When people – and monkeys – look at faces, a special part of their brain that is about the size of a blueberry “lights up.” Now, the most detailed brain-mapping study of the area yet conducted has confirmed that it isn’t limited to processing faces, as some experts have maintained, but instead serves as a general center of expertise for visual recognition.
Neuroscientists previously established that this region, which is called the fusiform face area (FFA) and is located in the temporal lobe, is responsible for a particularly effective form of visual recognition. But there has been an ongoing debate about whether this area is hard-wired to recognize faces because of their importance to us or if it is a more general mechanism that allows us to rapidly recognize objects that we work with extensively.
That is the unanticipated result of an analysis Vanderbilt psychologists performed on data from a series of visual recognition tasks collected in the process of developing a new standard test for expertise in object recognition.
“These results aren’t definitive, but they are consistent with the following story,” said Gauthier. “Everyone is born with a general ability to recognize objects and the capability to get really good at it. Nearly everyone becomes expert at recognizing faces, because of their importance for social interactions. Most people also develop expertise for recognizing other types of objects due to their jobs, hobbies or interests. Our culture influences which categories we become interested in, which explains the differences between men and women.”
The results were published online on Aug. 3 in the Vision Research journal in an article titled, “The Vanderbilt Expertise Test Reveals Domain-General and Domain-Specific Sex Effects in Object Recognition.”
Leanne Boucher, Ph.D., who completed postdoctoral training with Gordon Logan, Tom Palmeri and Jeff Schall, received the 2012 Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences Full-Time Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award at Nova Southeastern Univeristy. She represented the faculty at the annual Convocation in welcoming students and introducing this year’s academic theme of “Life and Death.”
Loss of photoreceptor cells (special neurons in the retina that convert light into biological signals) may be caused by defects in the response of the light receptor rhodopsin. Light-activated rhodopsin normally interacts with the protein arrestin, which inactivates rhodopsin signaling. But a persistent complex between the two can lead to internalization and degradation of rhodopsin, and degeneration of photoreceptors.
Bih-Hwa Shieh, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmacology, and colleagues explored the contribution of phosphorylation (a chemical modification) of rhodopsin and arrestin to retinal degeneration in fruit flies. Using a fluorescence-tagged arrestin to monitor rhodopsin turnover and photoreceptor degeneration, they found that the phosphorylation status of arrestin had no consequence on retinal morphology. They discovered that excessive phosphorylation of rhodopsin, however, plays an integral role in initiating degeneration of photoreceptors.
The Department of Psychology is thrilled to announce that Isabel Gauthier has officially been appointed the David K. Wilson Chair of Psychology.
The Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences is pleased to announce that David Calkins now holds the Denis M. O’Day Chair in Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences.
The Middle Tennessee Chapter Society for Neuroscience (MTNCSfN) has a new website! The website features current news and upcoming events for the group. The Middle Tennessee Chapter Society for Neuroscience was formed to unite neuroscience in Nashville and the surrounding area. Numerous activities are designed to promote the exchange of information and ideas between neuroscientists at all levels and to inform the public about brain science.
Groundbreaking new research in the field of evolutionary analysis in law not only provides additional evidence that chimpanzees share the controversial human psychological trait known as the “endowment effect” – which in humans has implications for law – but also shows the effect can be turned on or off for single objects, depending on their immediate situational usefulness.
In the Middle Ages, people who felt disconnected from their own bodies would probably have been subject to exorcism. Today, modern medicine prescribes pills to banish such sensations from patients’ brains. Research led by Sohee Park, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Psychology, sheds new light on this common symptom of schizo-phrenia and suggests that patients may benefit from an alternative type of treatment—dance.
Slated to begin fall 2012, this interdisciplinary program brings together Vanderbilt’s No. 1 ranked Peabody College of education and human development and the Vanderbilt Brain Institute, which administers one of the nation’s largest and highest ranking neuroscience programs, to research educational issues within a brain science context.