Our laboratory is located on the third floor of Park Hall at the University at Buffalo in the Department of Psychology. We use a variety of computational and experimental techniques, including: neural network modeling, electroenchephalographic recordings, ambulatory monitoring of movements and skin conductance responses, and behavioral testing to investigate how learning and other experiences change brains. Current research emphases are described below.
Atypical Learning and Generalization in Children with High-Functioning Autism
In collaboration with researchers from the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College, we are using a combination of behavioral, computational, and psychophysiological techniques to better understand how autism spectrum disorders (ASD) impact basic learning processes in children with ASD.
Connectionist models of category learning and generalization by children with ASD developed in our lab suggest that abnormal cortical plasticity mechanisms likely contribute to learning deficits. These models have led to several surprising predictions regarding the kinds of deficits that impact perceptual generalization and classical conditioning in individuals with ASD, some of which we have verified experimentally.
Learning and Representation in Auditory Perception
Perceptual learning occurs when an individual that repeatedly experiences sounds or images gradually becomes better at distinguishing subtle differences between variations of those sensory events. Historically, this form of learning was considered distinct from associative learning because it could occur without any overt response to the sensory events or any feedback being provided. Recent studies of cortical plasticity suggest that perceptual learning in mammals is related to learning-induced changes in cortical sensitivities. We are currently investigating the factors that determine how rapidly cortical networks can be changed by learning, and attempting to understand how individual differences can constrain learning-induced plasticity. This research is being conducted in coordination with other researchers at the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center, which is a multiuniversity collaborative Science of Learning center funded by the National Science Foundation.
Animal Bioacoustics and Auditory Cognition
Mammals use sounds to both communicate and to perceive the world around them. Past research in the field of animal bioacoustics has often focused on the former function, especially as it relates to social communication. Our studies instead focus on how animals (including humans) can use sound to represent actions, create new and better memories, and directly perceive the spatial positions of agents and objects. We are particularly interested in the abilities of cetaceans, and are currently pursuing collaborative research on dolphin echolocation at the National Marine Mammal Foundation.