Nancy Kanwisher is the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences at MIT, and Investigator at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. She received her B.S. in 1980 and her PhD in 1986, both from MIT. After receiving her Ph.D., Kanwisher held a MacArthur Fellowship in Peace and International Security for two years. Kanwisher then served as a faculty member for several years each in the UCLA and Harvard Psychology departments, before returning to MIT in 1997. Kanwisher's lab has contributed to the identification and characterization of a number of regions in the human brain that conduct very specific cognitive functions, including four that are involved in the visual perception of specific kinds of stimuli (faces, places, bodies, and words). Kanwisher received a Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences in 1999, a MacVicar Faculty Fellow teaching Award from MIT in 2002, and the Golden Brain Award from the Minerva Foundation in 2007. She was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She has recently launched a web site with short lectures for lay audiences about human cognitive neuroscience: www.nancysbraintalks.mit.edu.
Our lab investigates the functional organization of the brain as a window into the architecture of the human mind. In the past our lab has discovered a number of cortical regions that are stunningly specialized for specific cognitive tasks such as the perception of faces, places, bodies, and words. Current work is attempting to better characterize the function of each of these regions, to test long-standing but unresolved claims of other cortical specializations (e.g., for language), and to search for new unpredicted specializations using novel clustering methods (in collaboration with Polina Golland). More generally, we want to know which mental functions get their own specialized piece of cortical territory and why we have cortical regions specialized for some mental functions, but apparently not others.
A major goal of our current research is to understand how functionally specific cortical regions arise in development, and whether and how they change in adulthood. We have demonstrated important roles for experience by showing i) changes in the cortical representation of objects after training, ii) the existence of a cortical region whose specialization (for visual word perception) must be based on experience, and iii) changes in the response of retinotopic cortex in people with loss of foveal vision due to macular degeneration. On the other hand, exciting recent work from other labs suggests an important role for genes in determining cortical specialization. In a new line of work funded by the Ellison Medical Foundation, we are now beginning longitudinal studies of brain and behavior in typical children and children with autism aged 5-10 (in collaboration with Saxe, Gabrieli, and our colleagues Fischl and Wald who are developing new methods that will revolutionize pediatric neuroimaging). A central puzzle in this work is why the cortex continues to change into the teenage years even when the relevant underlying cognitive functions appear to be in place by age four.
Other lines of work in our lab explore the nature of the representations that enable us to recognize faces, objects, words, and scenes and that underlie our conscious experience of the visual world, the neural representation of visual arrays of multiple objects, the perceptual/cognitive functions that persist during diminished states of consciousness, and the role of feedback to retinotopic cortex in visual information processing.
9.71 Functional MRI Investigations of the Human Brain
9.S913 fMRI for cognitive neuroscientists: part 2
Osher, D., Saxe, R., Koldewyn, K., Gabrieli, J.D.E., Kanwisher, N., Saygin Z. (in press). Structural connectivity fingerprints predict cortical selectivity for multiple visual categories across cortex. Cerebral Cortex .
Saygin Z., Osher D., Koldewyn K., Martin R., Finn A., Saxe R., Gabrieli J., Sheridan M. (2015). Structural connectivity of the developing human amygdala. PlosOne.
Dilks DD, Julian JB, Peli E, Kanwisher N. (2014). Reorganization of visual processing in age-related macular degeneration depends on foveal loss. Optom Vis Sci..
Blank, I., Kanwisher, N., & Fedorenko, E. (2014). A functional dissociation between language and multiple-demand systems revealed in patterns of BOLD signal fluctuations. Journal of Neurophysiology.