Our Research

Research in the Sensory, Cognitive And Neuroimaging Utrecht (SCAN-U) lab investigates how the human mind results from processes in our uniquely complex brain. We develop and apply approaches that reveal brain processes underlying perceptual functions, cognitive functions, and links between them. This relies on innovative technical methods: data collection using advanced MRI scanners and analyses using mathematical models of neural responses. This cutting-edge approach first focuses on understanding healthy adults’ brain functions, underlying ‘normal’ perception, cognition and behaviour. Further work can then reveal how these  functions change in disease, development and ageing.


Our early work in this direction aimed to advance brain scanning beyond finding responsive brain areas, instead revealing neural processing mechanisms underlying visual perception. Ben developed methods showing how individual points in functional MRI scans respond to visual space, how this changes within and between brain areas. This has let us reveal how these spatial responses are affected by attention, visual motion, stereoscopic vision, neural interactions and brain connectivity. These innovative methodologies are now widely used to reveal visual processing changes in development, disease and ageing, like when learning to read and in eye disorders.


Since 2011, we have been pioneering applications of this approach to data from cutting-edge ultra-high field (7T) scanners, powerful machines measuring neural responses exceptionally clearly. We found that the combination of neural model-based analyses with ultra-high field function MRI could reveal the neural processing underlying humans’ unique higher cognitive functions. This began by measuring the brain’s responses to the number of objects in images (numerosity), a precursor to mathematical thought. This demonstrated that several established properties of sensory processing generalised to human cognitive processing and has therefore let us extend our approach to the neural processing mechanisms underlying cognitive functions.


We have since focussed on pioneering applications to many cognitive systems, working towards understanding cognitive processing in health, disease, development and ageing. We have since extended our approach throughout the brain and to different quantities like object size and time. Our current research is investigating the relationships and interactions between sensory and cognitive processing, while also investigating further cognitive functions like working memory.


Together, these research lines reveal brain processing underlying perception, cognition and memory. Although usually studied separately, we aim to show how these functions are linked and how information is transformed between the underlying brain systems.


All of our publications are open access, our code is open source, and we develop formats to share brain response measurements without (GDPR-protected) identifiable brain structure.