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fMRI brown bag: December 2, 2022

Mathias Nau

Mathias Nau, PhD is a postdoctoral researcher and Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Dr. Chris Baker's lab at the National Institute of Mental Health.

We are agents, not observers: On the inseparability of perception, memory, and behavior

Cognitive neuroscience seeks to understand the links between subjective experiences, neural activity, and behavior. The dominant approach is to use specialized tasks designed to optimally probe a concept of interest (e.g., episodic memory), and to disentangle behavioral, sensory, and mnemonic information through design (e.g., by constraining gaze during image recognition). Here, I will present an alternative framework that instead recognizes that mental processes often do not easily map onto the concepts we set out to study, and that perception, memory, and behavior are inextricable on the levels of neural activity and phenomenology. I demonstrate this, for example, by showing that brain activity during viewing and recall of movie events is linked through eye movements, which emphasizes that behavior cannot be subtracted from mental processes, and that it must be considered when interpreting neural data. In this context, I will present DeepMReye, our new open-source pipeline for camera-less MR-based eye tracking in existing fMRI datasets. Moreover, I will showcase how to bridge different modalities like gaze and speech in naturalistic settings using deep-learning. Finally, I will explore how centering the behavioral demands of tasks in our thinking may help us formulate new unified accounts of phenomenology, neural activity, and behavior.