Research Fellows Directory
Dr Peter Neri
University of Aberdeen
Humans display extraordinary visual abilities: a small fraction of a second is sufficient for us to interpret a complex scene containing several objects and decide how we should act in response to its characteristics. We should not thank our eyes for this ability: our eyes are not poor, but they are not that good either compared with those of other creatures . It is our brain, possibly the most sophisticated biological device ever produced by natural selection, that makes the difference. A large portion of our brain is devoted to visual processing, which is one of the reasons why our laboratory has focused on this particular aspect of brain activity.
Here is an example of the kind of questions we want to answer: how do we recognize other people when we see them, and how do we interpret their actions, how do we predict what their intentions are? There are several steps involved in completing this task: we must first extract all the different local movements generated by different parts of the person we have in front of us; we must then combine these local movements (which are more or less meaningless when taken one at a time) into a single coherent agent; finally we must attribute meaning to the action performed by the agent in relation to other nearby agents (including ourselves). It takes phenomenal processing resources to carry out these operations; our goal is to understand what these resources are, how they operate, and where they are located within our brain.
Sometimes these operations are carried out incorrectly or incompletely by our brain, in which case we may be affected by a neurological disorder. For example, autistic individuals appear unable to interpret other people's actions in the way that non-autistic individuals do. A significant part of our research is devoted to understanding exactly in what ways the autistic interpretation process differs, in the hope that this information may be useful to rectify these differences when necessary.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)