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Consciousness and Computation Lab

 Department of Psychology, Columbia University (NYC)

People in the lab

Hakwan Lau (principal investigator)

Guillermo Solovey (postdoc)

Ai Koizumi (postdoc)

Brian Maniscalco (PhD student)

Yoshiaki Ko (part-time RA / lab manager)

David Halpern (honors program research student)

Jorge Morales (PhD student based @ Philosophy)


Our lab: We are primarily based at the Psychology department at the Morningside Heights main campus in Manhattan (near 116th street and Broadway). We are also affiliated with the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Our research: We use a variety of tools to address the following topics. Most of the brain imaging (fMRI and MEG) data collection is done at the Donders Institute in Holland. In New York we focus on behavioral experiments, computational modeling, eye-movement measurements, and (single pulse) TMS. We try to address three broad questions:  

What is visual awareness? - We are interested in how conscious awareness (specifically, in vision) is related to metacognition and processing in the prefrontal cortex. We have developed a toolbox for analyzing metacognitive sensitivity based on confidence ratings.

What is visual awareness good for? - If we see something consciously (instead of "sensing" it unconsciously), does it allow us to produce more complex behavior in reaction to the stimulus? One may think this is trivially true, but this may not be so if we compare conscious perception with unconscious perception that is not so feeble but is equally strong in its ability to drive basic sensory processing. Such a comparison is not easy to set up, but we are developing behavioral methods for doing so.

How is visual awareness related to attention? - When we don't pay attention, there is a sense that subjectively we see more than we should. We process little detail in the unattended background but subjectively it doesn't feel as though the background is such blurred darkness. We use signal detection theory to model this phenomenon, and test it with behavioral experiments. Currently we are looking into extending this to more biologically realistic models (e.g. those that involve neuronal population coding). Our recent paper on this topic in Nature Neuroscience is here.

A useful review that outlines our theoretical approach is here.

Joining us!  We are looking for interns who are interested in gaining some experience in running human psychophysics experiments. Unfortunately there are no paid positions at the moment. If you are interested, please contact our lab manager Yoshi (mozartgonebad92@gmail.com).

To potential graduate school applicants: Unfortunately we do NOT plan to take on new graduate students in the coming academic year (2013/2014). 

Collaborators: Some of our collaborators include Ed Smith (Columbia), Janet Metcalfe (Columbia), Floris de Lange (Donders Institute, Holland), Thomas Thesen (NYU Medical Center), Holly Lisanby (Duke), Eric Halgren (UC San Diego), and philosophers Ned Block (NYU), David Rosenthal (CUNY), and Tim Bayne (Oxford)