THE HERMAN LAB

How do we use vision to understand the world?

We study the brain mechanisms that shape how visual information is perceived and interpreted.

Foraging for leaves
Neutral
Preadator spotted

The sensory information we use to comprehend our environment is ambiguous: visual images frequently contain multiple objects that have conflicting meanings, requiring focus on some while ignoring the rest; meaning can also depend on external context or internal motivation; new situations bring imagery whose meaning must be learned. The malleability of visual perception implies multiple brain mechanisms operating in tandem to create the experience of sight.

The images on the left offer a toy example of how visual processing could be affected by shifting internal motivations. If a hungry animal is foraging for leaves, the potent behavioral relevance of green foliage may overwhelm the recognition of salient details like a predator concealed in the underbrush. A neutral motivation might still leave the camouflaged leopard unnoticed but once the predator is spotted, other image features become irrelevant, facilitating escape behavior.

What happens in the brain when incoming visual information is interpreted as relevant or irrelevant? Which brain areas are involved in learning which visual information is relevant to our current circumstance and  goals? How is the activity of billions of neurons spanning ancient subcortical structures and more recently evolved cortical sensory systems coordinated to generate our continuously changing perceptual experiences? Work in the Herman Lab aims to answer these and other fundamental questions about the functioning of the primate visual system.

Foraging for leaves
Neutral
Predator spotted

The sensory information we use to comprehend our environment is ambiguous: visual images frequently contain multiple objects that have conflicting meanings, requiring focus on some while ignoring the rest; meaning can also depend on external context or internal motivation; new situations bring imagery whose meaning must be learned. The malleability of visual perception implies multiple brain mechanisms operating in tandem to create the experience of sight.

The images on the left offer a toy example of how visual processing could be affected by shifting internal motivations. If a hungry animal is foraging for leaves, the potent behavioral relevance of green foliage may overwhelm the recognition of salient details like a predator concealed in the underbrush. A neutral motivation might still leave the camouflaged leopard unnoticed but once the predator is spotted, other image features become irrelevant, facilitating escape behavior.

What happens in the brain when incoming visual information is interpreted as relevant or irrelevant? Which brain areas are involved in learning which visual information is relevant to our current circumstance and  goals? How is the activity of billions of neurons spanning ancient subcortical structures and more recently evolved cortical sensory systems coordinated to generate our continuously changing perceptual experiences? Work in the Herman Lab aims to answer these and other fundamental questions about the functioning of the primate visual system.

Foraging for leaves
Neutral
Predator spotted

The sensory information we use to comprehend our environment is ambiguous: visual images frequently contain multiple objects that have conflicting meanings, requiring focus on some while ignoring the rest; meaning can also depend on external context or internal motivation; new situations bring imagery whose meaning must be learned. The malleability of visual perception implies multiple brain mechanisms operating in tandem to create the experience of sight.

The images above offer a toy example of how visual processing could be affected by shifting internal motivations. If a hungry animal is foraging for leaves, the potent behavioral relevance of green foliage may overwhelm the recognition of salient details like a predator concealed in the underbrush. A neutral motivation might still leave the camouflaged leopard unnoticed but once the predator is spotted, other image features become irrelevant, facilitating escape behavior.

What happens in the brain when incoming visual information is interpreted as relevant or irrelevant? Which brain areas are involved in learning which visual information is relevant to our current circumstance and  goals? How is the activity of billions of neurons spanning ancient subcortical structures and more recently evolved cortical sensory systems coordinated to generate our continuously changing perceptual experiences? Work in the Herman Lab aims to answer these and other fundamental questions about the functioning of the primate visual system.

Talk for the Eye & Ear Foundation with J. Patrick Mayo

CONTACT INFORMATION

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Pittsburgh, PA
Office Phone: (412) 624-2609
Email: hermanj@pitt.edu