orientation and navigation
The human ability to orient within the environment is a very complex behaviour that requires numerous cognitive skills. We are interested in understanding the neural mechanisms underlying the variety of cognitive functions underlying this complex phenomenon. Our studies involve testing healthy individuals and patient populations. The following are some of our projects in progress.
DEVELOPMENTAL TOPOGRAPHICAL DISORIENTATION
Topographical disorientation may occur without any brain injury and with intact general cognitive functioning, resulting in what we termed as Developmental Topographical Disorientation (DTD). The approaches in this project involve the use of behavioural and neuroimaging techniques aiming at identifying the behavioural and neural mechanisms underlying this newly discovered condition. In addition, this project includes a genetic study in collaboration with Dr. Torben Bech-Hansen (Department of Medical Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary) aiming at identifying the gene(s) responsible for the life-long presence of DTD. Finally, the project includes the development of (re)habilitation treatments allowing individuals with DTD to practice and make use of selective strategies useful for orientation. Please visit our website www.gettinglost.ca to find out more about DTD.
COGNITIVE MAPS IN CHILDREN
The ability to orient in the environment relies mainly on the formation and use of a mental representation of the environment, namely a cognitive map. In this project we aim to investigate the exact time that humans develop this complex orientation skill fully. The project involves behavioural studies of children to assess the ability to form and use cognitive maps in both real and virtual surroundings. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Susan Graham of the Department of Psychology of the University of Calgary. The project also includes a study in whchi we are testing the hypothesis that the development of the important skills of forming and maikng use of congnitive maps may be affected by a perinatal strokes; this study is in collaboration with Dr. Adam Kirton, Director of the Calgary Pediatric Stroke Program atAlberta Children's Hospital.
This project is in collaboration with the Magnetic Perception Group directed by Dr. Peter König at the Institute of Cognitive Science of the University of Osnabrück (Osnabrück, Germany). The aim of this project is to assess the behavioural and structural neural changes following training of topographical orientation skills through a novel sensory augmentation device that projects the direction of the magnetic north onto the wearer's wais. Click here to read an article on sensory substitution research featuring feelSpace.
ONLINE ASSESSMENT OF TOPOGRAPHICAL ORIENTATION SKILLS
This project focuses on creating a comprehensive online assessment of the human ability to orient. The battery includes a variety of short tests (some of which will be performed in virtual environments) evaluating the use of different orientation strategies as well as the variety of cognitive skills important for orientation. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Richard M. Levy of Planning and Urban Design of the University of Calgary. The testing battery is made available online for public use at www.gettinglost.ca.
SPATIAL MEMORY, CONSOLIDATION AND SLEEP
This project focuses on the effect of sleep and sleep-deprivation on the consolidation of memory for locations and pathways traveled within a real or a virtual environment. The approach includes polygraphic nocturnal sleep recording for analysis of REM and non-REM phases, and neuroimaging approaches in young healthy subjects. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Michele Ferrara of the Psychology Department of the University of L’Aquila, Italy.
SPATIAL ORIENTATION SKILLS, PSYCHOSOCIAL OUTCOMES AND QUALITY OF LIFE
The ability to orient in spatial surroundings allows individuals to interact with others and accomplish a variety of tasks that are necessary for daily life functioning. Therefore, topographical orientation skills may be significantly related to numerous psychosocial outcomes and quality of life. In this project, we are investigatingin the unknown relationship between the human ability to orient in the surroundings and the psychosocial outcomes and quality of life of the individuals. Our general hypothesis is that being able to orient and navigate in the environment may have major effects on affect, self-concepts, the quality of social relationships, psychosocial life outcomes, and quality of life measures. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Tom O'Neil of the Department of Psychology of the University of Calgary.
AGING AND INDIVIDUALS' VARIABILITY IN ORIENTATION
Using neuroimaging and behavioural approaches, this project focuses on understanding the brain mechanisms underlying the individuals’ variability in topographical orientation skills and how aging relates to the functional decline of such a complex cognitive skill.
SPATIAL COGNITION IN ADOLESCENTS SUFFERING FROM MAJOR DEPRESSION
Major depression has significant effect on the structral integrity of the brain, specifically structures involved in spatialmemory and orientation. This project aims to assess a wide variety of orientation skills in children affected by major depression to find its effects on the ability to orient. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Frank MacMaster of the Departments of Psychiatry and Paediatrics (Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary).
Face processing and recognition
How can we recognize our friends and relatives? How the brain supports such a complex human ability? We are interested in understanding the brain mechanisms involved while processing facial attributes that may (or may not) refer to the identity of the individual. In order to shed more light on this complex issue, we make use of behavioral and neuroimaging (fMRI, DTI) approaches in both healthy volunteers and patients affected by prosopagnosia, i.e. the selective impairment to recognize familiar faces. Some of our current projects are listed below.
FACIAL EXPRESSIONS AND IDENTITY
The processing of faces involves several brain regions including the fusiform face area (FFA), the superior temporal sulcus (STS), and the occipital face area (OFA). We make use of behavioural and neuroimaging (fMRI) approaches to investigate the role of these selective face areas while processing either facial features that refer to the individuals’ identity or facial attributes that are related to the emotional status of the individuals. Identity and expressions rely on different facial information that may be distinguished at a neural level, confirming the dissociation that we usually observe in patients with prosopagnosia.
FACE PROCESSING AND PROSOPAGNOSIA
This project involves the use of behavioural approaches and neuroimaging (fMRI, DTI) techniques to investigate the ability to process facial features in patients affected by prosopagnosia. This project is complementary to the investigation of facial processing in healthy volunteers. Together with an understanding of the type of brain damages responsible for the prosopagnosic defect, the investigation of the facial processing in these rare patients will help us to shed more light on the complex human ability to recognize people and make sense of faces.
STRUCTURAL CONNECTIVITY OF BRAIN AREAS INVOLVED IN FACE PROCESSING
In this study, we make use of Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to investigate the connectivity between different brain regions (FFA, STS, OFA) involved in face processing. Although there is evidence that a variety of brain regions are involved in processing facial attributes, to date, there is no evidence showing how (and if) these different brain regions are anatomically connected. DTI allows us to assess the fiber tracking between these selective regions as assessed and localized by using fMRI. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Brad Goodyear (Seaman Family MR Centre) of the Faculty of Medicne of the University of Calgary.
In the last decade we acquired considerable knowledge regarding face processing in humans. However, to date, there is no rehabilitation treatments for patients with prosopagnosia. The aim of this project is to develop a digital device that will help those patients to recognize familiar faces. This is a joined project between NeuroLab and the Biometric Technologies Laboratory directed by Dr. Svetlana Yanushkevich in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary). The project is in collaboration with Dr. Jason Barton (Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia) and Dr. Bradley Duchaine (Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USA).
the emotional brain
What is the relationship between emotions and brain functioning? We are interested in investigating this issue by using fMRI in healthy subjects as well as in brain-damaged patients and individuals affected by emotional disorders. We aim at investigating brain activity in processing emotional complex stimuli and its relationship with specific features of personality such as emotional susceptibility, empathy and extraversion.
SLEEP, SLEEP-DEPRIVATION AND EMPATHY
This project focuses on the effect of sleep and sleep-deprivation on human empathy. The approach includes behavioural and neuroimaging (fMRI, sMRI) approaches in young healthy subjects undergoing sleep deprivation and individuals performing night-time jobs. The project is in collaboration with Dr. Michele Ferrara of the Psychology Department of the University of L’Aquila, Italy.