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Welcome to Our Lab

Epstein Lab 2013 How does the brain represent scenes, places, objects, and events? How is this information used to guide spatial navigation and action?

In our lab, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral methods to investigate these questions.

Our lab is within the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) of the University of Pennsylvania. We are also affiliated with the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC), the Center for Functional Neuroimaging (CfN), and the IGERT Complex Scene Perception Group.

Participate in Research

Goddard Laboratories Campus Map If you are interested in participating in a research study, please visit the CCN Experimetrix or Experiments@Penn to sign up for available slots.

The Center for Cognitive Neuroscience is located on the third and fifth floors of Goddard Laboratories. For directions to our laboratory space, please visit: http://ccn.upenn.edu/home/index.shtml

Lab News and Announcements

Feel free to check out some of the cool things our lab has done to make it to the news!

nih logo A postdoc position is available for a new collaboration between our lab and Dr. Nora Newcombe’s lab at Temple:

A two-year postdoctoral position is available at Temple University to work with Dr. Nora Newcombe (co-mentored by Dr. Russell Epstein of the University of Pennsylvania). The postdoc will work on an NSF-funded project on the neural correlates of individual differences in navigation skill using neuroimaging in adult humans. We prefer a background in spatial cognition and familiarity with fMRI, but we will consider other individuals whose prior work is in cognitive neuroscience more broadly, but with an interest in navigation and individual differences. We would also prefer someone who is available in the next few months, but the position will remain open until filled. Please email a CV, sample papers, statement of interest, and contact information for references to newcombe@temple.edu or epstein@psych.upenn.edu.

action logo Penn Researchers Provide New Insights Into How People Navigate Through the World

Michael Bonner (postdoctoral fellow) and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) discuss how the brain analyses a scene to find what possible paths exist in it. In two experiments (one using well controlled artificial stimuli, the other using naturalistic real-world stimuli), the researchers found that the occipital place area automatically enocdes the navigational affordances of a scene. Many organisms, including humans, can effortlessly see a scene and extract what paths exist to navigate through, yet the method in which the brain does this was poorly understood. Read how these researchers leveraged neuronal patterns from fMRI experiments to understand how the brain does this crucial computation.

Click here to read the Penn News article.

action logo Penn Psychologists Find Photos, Videos Result in Similar Understanding of Actions

Alon Hafri (graduate student), John Trueswell (collaborator), and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) discuss how the brain represents actions in an abstract manner. Though both videos and still images were presented to subjects, a certain brain network is able to represent actions abstractly across these two different mediums. Read how these researchers used state of the art pattern similarity analyses to understand how the brain represents actions.

Click here to read the Penn News article.

sfn logo Michael Bonner (postdoctoral fellow) and Josh Julian (graduate student) have organized a nanosymposium for SFN this year titled Scene Perception and Spatial Navigation. Michael and Josh will serve as the co-chairs of the session. The nanosymposium will take place from 8am to 12pm on Wednesday 11/16.

Stay tuned for more information and a list of speakers! Click here to reach the SFN website.

iJRD article Mental GPS? There's an app for that! Josh Julian (graduate student) and Peter Bryan (former undergraduate research assistant) describe iJRD (a judgment of relative direction game), the app that takes research from the lab out into the real world! By playng iJRD anonymously on your iPhone, you can learn about how your navigation abilities compare to other people around the world all while aiding researchers make discoveries that will have important implications for basic research in psychology, neuroscience, urban planning, and for advancing early detection methods and targeted therapeutic approaches for diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, where spatial memory deficits occur.

Click here to read the article, and here to visit the official website of the app.

OPA article OPA! The occipital place area: crucial for using boundaries to navigate

Josh Julian (graduate student), Jack Ryan (former lab manager), Roy Hamilton (collaborator), and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) discuss the crucial role of the occipital place area in perceiving boundaries. Indeed, boundaries are something fairly unique to scenes; faces and objects do not have the same boundaries that a city street or natural landscape contain. Read how these researchers used TMS to discover that the occipital place area is determining where boundaries are during navigation.

Click here to read the Penn News article, and here for the Science Daily coverage.

4museums Brain's Compass Relies on Geometric Relationships

Steven Marchette (postdoctoral fellow) and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) discuss the importance of their latest research on geometry and memory. In order to get from point A to point B, you need to know which direction you are facing; you need a mental compass of sorts. Read how our lab has shown how the brain anchors this mental compass using geometry in the retrosplenial complex.

Click here to read the Penn News article, and here for the Science Daily coverage.

map and compas article Mental ‘Map’ and ‘Compass’ Are Two Separate Systems

Josh Julian (graduate student), Alexander Keinath (graduate student), Isabel Muzzio (collaborator), and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) describe their research separating the cognitive map from the cognitive compass. Read how these researchers were able to tease the two systems apart using two different chambers with unique contextual clues. These clues allowed the mice to know which of the two chambers they were in, but they used geometry instead to orient themselves.

Click here to read the Penn News article, and here for the Science Daily coverage.

faces Penn study sees changing faces of beauty

Teresa Pegors (former graduate student) and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) discuss their research on the role of context and beauty judgments. Previous studies on the role of context in estimating beauty have led to contradictory responses: in some studies, the preceding attractive face causes the next face to be more attractive, but in others, the preceding attractive face causes the next to seem less attractive. Our researchers got to the bottom of this seeming contradiction. Read the article to find out the role of timing in influencing judgments of attractiveness and how no percept is seperable from recent history.

Click here to read the Penn Current article.

wired article Beyond the Nobel: What Scientists Are Learning About How Your Brain Navigates

Read this article describing the current state of the field in the cognitive neuroscience of navigation. Under discussion is work from our colleagues - the Mosers, John O'Keefe, and Eleanor Maguire - and from our own Russell Epstein (principal investigator). Read the article to find out more about the theorized roles of the hippocampus, parahippocampal place area, and retrosplenial cortex in storing and retrieving cognitive maps, in landmark based navigation, and in triangulating the position of different landmarks in relation to each other.

Click here to read the article from Wired.

wired article A New Perspective on Brain Function

Sean MacEvoy (collaborator) and Russell Epstein (principal investigator) discuss evidence of a new way to consider how the brain processes and recognizes a person's surroundings. Read to find out how the brain may use objects from within scenes to identify that scene.

Click here to read the Boston College Chronicle article and here for the Science Daily article.