The human brain uses contextual and affective information to facilitate visual recognition and action, but little is known about the neural mechanisms mediating this facilitation. We have hypothesized that contextual and affective facilitation processes have evolved from a primitive system for identifying threats in the environment and therefore should be tightly linked with threat identification and action preparation processes. These fundamental questions have not been studied in a unified framework before and have important implications for both basic neuroscience, and for many mental and neurological disorders, including anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression, and autism. Here we propose to examine how contextual and affective predictions can facilitate visual recognition and action preparation with a combined approach of psychophysics, fMRI and MEG/EEG. The proposed research, in addition to addressing these novel questions, will allow the candidate to obtain intensive training in MEG/EEG and to develop conceptual and theoretical understanding in new cognitive and affective neuroscience domains of contextual and affective processing. The new skills in contextual and affective processing, MEG/EEG, and functional connectivity analyses, in conjunction with the candidate's existing strengths in fMRI and object recognition, will help to optimally prepare the candidate for starting a fully independent research program at the completion of this award.
The proposed research program focuses on contextual and affective processes in visual cognition and action. For this reason, this research has the potential to provide insights into the neural and behavioral mechanisms that are malfunctioning in many mental and neurological disorders. Contextual association processes are thought to be impaired in depression and autistic patients. The implications of the proposed studies for mental health are particularly significant because affective processing abnormalities are observed in virtually all mental, and many neurological disorders.
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