How do we recognise a face?
Research degree student, Daniel Feuerriegel is at the Face Categorisation Laboratory at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium investigating how the brain does just this.
“When you present an image, let’s say at 5 times per second, you get rhythmic brain activity at the frequency at which you are presenting that image,” Daniel says.
“Their [Face Categorisation Lab] fast periodic visual stimulation technique records the brain activity with an electroencephalogram (pictured below).
“I’m using image repetition and rhythmic entrainment of brain activity to investigate how repetition of different information in a face, for example gender, age and emotion, will give us different signals in the brain.”
Daniel is spending six months with the Head of the Face Categorisation Lab, Professor Bruno Rossion, conducting experiments to understand the factors contributing to effects observed using this technique.
The knowledge and experience gained in Belgium will assist Daniel in his own research investigating the relationship between repetition effects and predictive coding.
“I am looking at the relation of repetition to different aspects of prediction in the brain,” Daniel says.
“Predictive coding theories paint the brain as a big prediction machine. One of the fundamental things that we do is predict what will be around us in the environment and then we will act on those predictions.
“For example, here we are sitting in this room, our visual environment is very stable. If I look over here there’s a window, if I look back again it’s highly likely to be the same thing. So, we think that these repetition effects might be a way to keep track and take advantage of a stable environment and more efficiently process information.
“So when I mean predictions, perhaps based on what we’ve seen, or expect to see, our visual system is making these predictions all the time without us being conscious of them.
“By looking at what happens to our brain when we make these predictions we can hopefully eventually infer what advantages this might give us, or what it means for how the brain is organised and how the brain responds to things over time.
“This might very important for understanding how vision works, for example.”
Having had such a positive experience completing his honours in psychology under the supervision of Dr Hannah Keage, Daniel is now working on his PhD after winning an Australian Postgraduate Award.
“I had a really good year working with Dr Keage and I thought if I’m going to do a PhD I might as well be in a place where we’ve got excellent facilities and supervisors. I haven’t looked back since.”
Image by Michelle Oppert