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Tamar Makin & Chris Baker Collaboration

Title: Plasticity in the adult human brain

UCL Supervisor: Tamar Makin, Ph.D.,  Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

NIH Supervisor: Chris Baker, Ph.D., Section on Learning and Plasticity, LBC, NIMH

Background

Our brain's ability to adapt how it processes inputs based on changed experience, termed plasticity, is a key mechanism underlying learning and recovery from injury. Elucidating the nature and extent of cortical plasticity is critical for understanding brain function throughout life, with basic science and clinical implications. The aim of both labs is to better understand opportunities and limitations of plasticity in the adult human brain, with a focus on perceptual representations. We try to understand how complex sensory and motor representations are initially formed and later changed with experience, and how perceptual representations can be best refined through learning. For this purpose, we apply experimental approaches from neuroscience, psychology and rehabilitation.

Methods

We will combine a range of neuroimaging techniques with behavioral paradigms, and also offer opportunities for using non-invasive brain stimulation. By pooling expertise and resources across our two labs, we will provide opportunities to run studies in healthy participants as well as patient groups, such as individuals with a missing hand or with visual impairments. We are particularly interested in developing experimental paradigms inspired by the complexity of real world situations in order to tackle real-life challenges. For example, how does the way we interact with the world impact our perceptual representations? How can we generalize learning in the lab to real-world situations? How can we best train individuals to learn new skills (e.g. using a prosthetic limb) quickly and efficiently? How can we best substitute lost sensory information, e.g. the sense of touch, when designing assistive technology? The focus and specifics of the project will be developed together with the individual student to fit their skills and interests.

Suggested reading:

TR Makin, F de Vignemont, AA Faisal. Neurocognitive barriers to the embodiment of technology. Nature Biomedical Engineering. 2017

Malcolm GL, Groen II, Baker CI. Making Sense of Real-World Scenes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2016

Contact details:
Dr. Tamar Makin - t.makin@ucl.ac.uk
Dr. Chris Baker - bakerchris@mail.nih.gov