Poster Winner, Schlegel

On April 26, 2013 by Grad Forum

schlegel_bannerCongratulations to graduate student Alex Schlegel, in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who was one of four winners of the Graduate Poster Session held recently in Alumni Hall! (Below is a summary of Schlegel’s poster.)

Poster Title: A Neural Network Supporting Mental Operations on Visual Imagery

Ask a bonobo what you get when you cross an elephant with a rhino, and he likely will not have the slightest clue. But if you ask me, I can vividly imagine an elephino with two tusks and horns charging through the savanna. Humans have evolved robust machinery for synthesizing new concepts that we can use for a range of pursuits including art and science. However, we know little about the neural basis of this machinery.

In this study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the brain’s ability to manipulate the contents of visual imagery. We developed a set of abstract visual shapes that could be assembled into 2×2 arrays to generate figures of varying complexity. Subjects performed two types of tasks: they either held the stimuli in short term memory for later recall or mentally manipulated the stimuli in working memory.

We found a network of 11 cortical and subcortical brain regions. There was differing activity between those tasks involving remembering and those involving manipulation. Multivariate pattern classification within these regions revealed a subset of frontal, parietal, and occipital areas whose informational structure could distinguish between the different mental operations. This suggests that these regions play a key role in mental operations. We also found that the pattern of functional connectivity between these regions changed depending on the task, with an area called the precuneus serving as a network hub.

Thus, a multi-region network of areas dominated by fronto-parieto-occipital connections supports the mental manipulation of visual imagery.

poster summary by Alex Schlegel

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