Shlomo Bentin - Scientific Interests

The research in the lab focuses in four general domains:

Face perception

I am particularly interested in the early visual mechanisms that appear to be specific to the processing of faces. Is there a neural network triggered solely or primarily by physiognomic information? Is it a unique module or, as our data seem to suggest, it comprises of several local networks, one dealing primarily with face-components and the other with the holistic perception of the face. What are the visual primitives that are necessary (and sufficient) to trigger such a network? What are its functional characteristics? Is it modulated by context (conceptual and/or perceptual)? Do faces attract attention refelexively? Can it be activated without attention, and/or without awareness of the face-associated content of a stimulus? What are the spatial frequencies used for processing faces at different levels, and how are these spatial frequencies affecting early electrophysioogical mansifestations of face processing.

All the above are questions asked in my current research. In the future I intend to examine the neural mechanisms involved in social-communication based on faces – such as expression, lip-reading, etc.

Visual Expertise

Visual expertise is the ability of certain individuals to discriminate quickly and accurately between very similar objects which belong to the same class. Car experts, for instance, can tell the difference between two similar car models of the same make in just a split of a second.

Expertise is acquired along a person’s life span. A few examples of the diverse array of experts’ objects of interest are cars (specific kind of cars – sport cars, sedans, etc.), birds, dogs, butterflies, fingerprints, and artificial objects such as greebles. In principle, every class of homogenous yet discernible objects may become one’s field of expertise.

Visual expertise research has so far been limited to the context of the debate over the modularity and uniqueness of face perception. Expertise has been proposed as an alternative explanation for the domain specificity account of face perception.

Attention and Awareness

I am particularly interested in the inter-play between attention and awareness as it is manifested in cognitively normal individuals and in brain-damaged patients who suffer from unilateral neglect. The latter group serves as a model for perception and processing of information without awareness. However, they may also show sensitivity to manipulations of attention in the neglected field. Therefore, they can shed light on the putative distinction between attention and awareness. So far my work (in collaboration with Drs. Leon Deouell and Nachum Soroker) focused on auditory attention and its distribution in space. Currently we investigate face processing in these patients.

Dynamic processes in episodic and semantic memory

We use perfromance, and neuro-net simulations to examine the time-course and the constraints in forming new episodic associations between words. One particularly interesting question which we address in my studies is how the process of forming an episodic association is influenced by semantic knowledge. Based on the already developed models we explore associative learning in schizphrenics with Thaught disorders and, very recently in patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD).