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Newsletter Editions

Published: 04/12/2009
Spring 2009

Research

Department of Psychology Establishes an Electrophysiology Research Facility

UW Psychology is expanding neuroscience research capabilities through a major investment in new equipment and staff support. Neuroscience serves as the foundation for understanding the mechanisms of human behavior and UW Psychology has long been a leader in neuroscience research. As a department we recognize the need to foster new neuroscience research initiatives, expand our undergraduate and graduate training in neuroscience, and support interdisciplinary collaborations in neuroscience research. With these goals in mind, the department is establishing a new Electrophysiology Research Facility (ERF).

Image of EEGThe ERF will house state-of-the-art EEG recording equipment that will allow researchers to record brain electrical activity at the scalp. This is a powerful technique for understanding how mental processes occur in the brain. EEG involves the placement of electrodes (anywhere from a dozen to 128) across the surface of the scalp, then amplifying and recording the underlying electrical signals. The recorded brain activity can then be correlated with mental tasks performed by the subject, ranging from simple perceptual tasks to complex memory and language processing. In addition to understanding brain processing in healthy individuals, the technique can be applied to clinical populations to understand the mechanisms underlying mental dysfunctions.

One particular advantage of EEG measurements is that they provide very precise timing of brain activity related to mental events. The measure nicely complements the spatial resolution obtained with fMRI measurements. One of the central goals of the ERF will be integrating the measurements obtained from EEG with MRI measurements to obtain a detailed temporal and spatial characterization of brain processes underlying complex human behavior.

Another way to view brain responses with sufficiently sophisticated temporal resolution is to link neural function to cognitive processes to record the evoked response of large number of neurons to specific stimuli or task operations. These types of responses are referred to Evoked Response Potentials (ERP). An example is shown in the adjacent figure. With this measure, subtle changes in cognitive processing or attention result in detectable changes in the ERP. Mapping such ERPs across the brain have led to new insights into (e.g.) language processing by the brain.