Gazzaley Lab Neuroscience Research

You enter a crowded room, searching for an old friend amongst a sea of unfamiliar faces and other distractions. You retrieve a stored representation of your friend’s face from memory, hold it in mind and compare it to the many faces before you. You scan your surroundings, making lightning fast decisions… and soon a match is made and you recognize your friend. As you cross the room another person waves at you, capturing your attention. You signal that you will be right with them, and while storing this new information in mind, you proceed to make contact with your friend. Along the way, you decide to sent a text message...
Our brains receive a constant onslaught of sensory information that demands a continuous integration between stimuli that capture our attention independent of our goals (e.g., the person waving you over) and our internal decisions as to where we direct our attention and what we store in memory (e.g. searching the room for your friend and remembering the new face). The focus of research in the Gazzaley lab is the study of cognitive control of the neural process of top-down modulation, which underlies our ability to exert conscious control over how we perceive our environment. It is this ability to selectively focus our attention, suppress distracting input and hold relevant information in mind that defines our conscious experience and serves as a critical crossroad between attention and memory. Furthermore, this phenomenon is not restricted to processing visual information in crowded situations, as illustrated above, but it occurs constantly and involves all of our senses. We would be incapable of functioning if we were unable to exert conscious control over our perceptual world. In fact, it is a breakdown of this system that leads to many of the functional difficulties experienced by individuals as they age, as well as those with dementia.

Research in the Gazzaley lab focuses on furthering our understanding of the neural mechanisms of top-down modulation (how does it work?), alterations that occur in aging and neurological disease (what goes wrong?) and how we may intervene therapeutically when deficits occur (how can we fix it?). To accomplish these goals, several human neurophysiologic techniques are coupled: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), and transcranial magnetic and electrical stimulation (TMS & TES).