Sight and Insight: New Perspectives on Vision
Every time you look for a pen on a crowded desk, or recognize the face of a friend, your brain performs a huge number of calculations. Vision scientists have developed many sophisticated theories about how we are able to detect, discriminate, and identify simple patterns such as spots and lines. But we are still a long way from understanding whether these theories can account for our remarkable ability to perceive complex patterns such as the face of a friend.
As the Canada Research Chair in Vision Science, Patrick Bennett will join a team of researchers at McMaster University whose combined multidisciplinary expertise is unique within Canada and around the world. This multidisciplinary approach will enable Dr. Bennett to further our understanding of the hidden complexities underlying vision in everyday tasks. His work will apply advanced quantitative methods to determine how sensory and cognitive processes constrain our perception of the world, and will take advantage of modern medical imaging techniques to determine the precise nature of the neural systems underlying this perception.
An additional focus of this work involves understanding how neural systems that underlie perception in adult brains change as a function of learning and aging. It is becoming increasingly clear that neural circuits are not fixed in the adult brain, and that new neurons can be generated throughout our lifetimes. These results raise the exciting possibility that behavioural therapies might be used to counteract the effects of injury or aging by stimulating the development of new functional networks in the brain.
Dr. Bennett's own research has already shown that young and old brains encode visual information in very different ways, and that the strategies used by the brain for visual recognition can change dramatically as a function of learning. The goals of future work are to understand the conditions that enable perceptual learning to occur, to identify the ways in which visual mechanisms change with experience, and to determine whether practice on perceptual and cognitive tasks can produce long-lasting improvements in visual performance in older adults. The results of this work may lead to the development of innovative behavioural therapies to diminish the effects of aging on vision, and to enhance the quality of life for older Canadians.