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VBI Scientist of the Month, Andre Bastos, Ph.D.

Posted by on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 in news.

Andre Bastos, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Psychology-Neuroscience

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How is it that we attend to important stimuli in our environment? How is it that we filter out familiar and predictable aspects of our environment but quickly become aware of unexpected stimuli? How do we keep information “in mind” and manipulate and control our own thoughts and actions? These (Attention, Predictive Processing, and Working Memory, respectively) are powerful examples of cognition. The mission of the Bastos Lab is to understand their neuronal basis.

Cognition emerges as an interaction between top-down and bottom-up processing.  Bottom-up processing carries sensory information about stimuli in the environment, such as color, form, shape, and contrast in vision. Top-down processing represents our internal thoughts, goals, attention, and predictions.

Bottom-up and top-down processing take place over a number of both cortical and subcortical processing stages. They involve computations within each processing stage and the neuronal communication that takes place between stages. Therefore, to understand these processing streams and how they are integrated, we need to understand the brain holistically. This involves recording neural activity in multiple brain regions simultaneously. Then we can understand how many interacting parts (neurons within brain areas) can give rise to emergent, network-level phenomenon (cognition and consciousness).

Deficits in Predictive Processing, Attention, and Working Memory are at the core of many brain disorders. For example, autism spectrum disorders can be understood as a condition in which the brain operates with faulty predictions of social interaction. Every social interaction becomes “surprising” and thus overwhelming. Schizophrenia can be understood as a brain disorder where overly tight predictive models overrule sensory inputs, generating hallucinations. For these reasons, it is imperative that we gain a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms by which cognition works in the brain. These insights will ultimately translate into a better understanding of human nature as well as novel treatments for these and other brain disorders.