Perception and Behaviour: Deciphering the Neuronal Code
We effortlessly perceive the visual world and are particularly attentive to moving objects. We accomplish these tasks with the help of nerve cells in specific brain areas, such as the visual cortex, which are devoted to processing visual information. Although neuroscience research has revealed much about the connectivity and the responses of the neurons in these brain areas, we know little about how this neuronal activity is actually used to generate visual perceptions and drive behaviour.
The goal of Dr. Erik Cook's laboratory research, as Canada Research Chair in the Physiology of Visual Perception, is to reveal the rules neurons use to encode behaviourally relevant information in the form of electrical activity. These rules represent the "neuronal code" used by the brain to transmit information between neurons. By simultaneously monitoring behavioural performance and the electrical activity of neurons in the visual cortex, Dr. Cook is trying to show how neuronal activity in the brain underlies conscious visual perception.
One specific goal of Dr. Cook's research is to discover the timescale over which behaviourally relevant information is represented in the activity of neurons, and to determine whether this timescale is fixed or whether it changes, depending on the nature of the visual task.
Because perception is based on the activity of many neurons, Dr. Cook is also trying to understand how activity from multiple neurons in the same and different brain areas work together to generate visual perceptions. He is combining his experimental results with ongoing theoretical studies of neuronal information encoding.