Humans are exceptionally good at remembering the layout of objects in a local workspace. The present proposal investigates the time-dependent processes that underlie this ability to quickly and flexibly form, maintain, and update such `cognitive maps'. A central challenge to understanding this ability is to understand how people integrate `where'with `what'. Neurophysiological evidence suggests a functional and anatomical segregation of the visual system into dorsal and ventral pathways that represent spatial location (`where') and object property information (`what'), respectively. Although a great deal of work has clarified the operation of these processing streams in isolation, much less is known about how spatial and non-spatial information is integrated. The goal of this grant is to develop and test a neurally- plausible theory of where-what integration. The research plan formalizes such a theory and tests specific predictions derived from its central concepts.
Specific Aim 1 examines how people `bind'non-spatial features together to form object representations grounded in a world-centered spatial frame of reference.
Specific Aim 2 examines the mechanisms that maintain object representations during short delays and detect changes in object features.
Specific Aim 3 highlights the advantages of grounding `what'in `where': people can flexibly update working memory representations by coupling these representations to a real-time spatial system. Understanding the integration of `where'and `what'in a neurally-plausible way is critical for two reasons. First, there is compelling evidence that deficits in where-what integration underlie the behavior problems prevalent in several mental health disorders including ADHD, Williams Syndrome, Schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's/Dementia. Second, understanding the integration of dorsal and ventral pathways is a core requirement of any neurally-plausible theory that purports to link brain and behavior in an ecologically grounded way. Indeed, the real promise of our approach lies at the intersection of these themes: to develop a theory that can address both the behavioral and neural deficits that underlie specific mental health disorders.

Public Health Relevance

The goal of this grant is to develop and test a neural theory of how people integrate information about where objects are located with memory for what the objects are. Achieving this goal will have broad implications for our understanding of mental health because deficits in `where-what'integration underlie the behavior problems in several mental health disorders including ADHD, Williams Syndrome, Schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's/Dementia. Understanding the integration of `where'and `what'is also a core requirement of any theory that purports to link brain and behavior in an ecologically grounded way.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Cognition and Perception Study Section (CP)
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Rossi, Andrew
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University of Iowa
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Iowa City
United States
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Johnson, Jeffrey S; Spencer, John P (2016) Testing a dynamic-field account of interactions between spatial attention and spatial working memory. Atten Percept Psychophys 78:1043-63
Ross-Sheehy, Shannon; Schneegans, Sebastian; Spencer, John P (2015) The Infant Orienting With Attention task: Assessing the neural basis of spatial attention in infancy. Infancy 20:467-506
Samuelson, Larissa K; Jenkins, Gavin W; Spencer, John P (2015) Grounding cognitive-level processes in behavior: the view from dynamic systems theory. Top Cogn Sci 7:191-205
Wijeakumar, Sobanawartiny; Spencer, John P; Bohache, Kevin et al. (2015) Validating a new methodology for optical probe design and image registration in fNIRS studies. Neuroimage 106:86-100
Perone, Sammy; Spencer, John P (2014) The co-development of looking dynamics and discrimination performance. Dev Psychol 50:837-52
Schneegans, Sebastian; Spencer, John P; Schöner, Gregor et al. (2014) Dynamic interactions between visual working memory and saccade target selection. J Vis 14:
Buss, Aaron T; Spencer, John P (2014) The emergent executive: a dynamic field theory of the development of executive function. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev 79:vii, 1-103
Perone, Sammy; Spencer, John P (2013) Autonomy in action: linking the act of looking to memory formation in infancy via dynamic neural fields. Cogn Sci 37:1-60
Perone, Sammy; Spencer, John P (2013) Autonomous visual exploration creates developmental change in familiarity and novelty seeking behaviors. Front Psychol 4:648
Spencer, John P; Austin, Andrew; Schutte, Anne R (2012) Contributions of Dynamic Systems Theory to Cognitive Development. Cogn Dev 27:401-418

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