research

The Cognition & Brain Dynamics research team investigates the temporal structures underlying human perception and cognition. The team is part of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit (INSERM, Collège de France) hosted at NeuroSpin (CEA, DRF/Joliot). Our work is committed to the view that perception and cognition rely on inferential brain processes and we tackle questions combining cognitive theory with state-of-the art human neurosciences (using MEG, EEG, fMRI, psychophysics and any suitable methods to address the question).

Sophisticated sensory systems have endowed us with the ability to sense the environment and calibrate our actions towards it. Textbook knowledge distinguishes separate sensory systems (i.e. audition, vision, olfaction, …) yet their strict independence is a gross oversimplification of cortical organization. Understanding multisensory integration is a first step towards understanding how the brain builds abstraction out of sensory information. For this, which multisensory Gestalts operate in the integration process and how are they implemented? When do multisensory occurs in the brain (van Wassenhove et al., 2005)? Is the temporal comodulation of multisensory signals an essential cue to building (supra)modal abstract representations in the brain (Zilber et al., 2014)?  How do multisensory information provide insights on what our sense of simultaneity means for the observer (van Wassenhove et al., 2007)?

Temporal Cognition (van Wassenhove, 2009, 2016, 2017) distinguishes two ways in which the nonverbal brain represents time: the interval sense and the phase sense (Gallistel, 1990). Interval timing is the ability of an organism to quantify and compare time intervals or durations. The phase sense refers to the internal mapping of events in time, supporting the ability to predict when an event will occur in a given period of time. Distinguishing interval timing from phase sense posits distinct neural operations for handling time in the brain: whereas the mapping of events in time (phase sense) requires a mechanism to encode or time-stamp events in a cognitive map (in the manner we consciously map historical events on a calendar but not necessarily in the spatial dimension!), estimating duration requires the quantification of internal distances and relational operations between two recorded quantities. Both are essential and complementary facets of temporal cognition. We are interested in how the brain compute distances between internal events to yield estimations of duration (van Wassenhove & Lecoutre, 2014) within and across senses (van Wassenhove et al, 2008) but also the semantics of time and the ordering of events in the mind (Gauthier & van Wassenhove, 2016a,b).

The implication of neural oscillations in various cognitive functions (incl. speech processing, attentional selection, working memory or consciousness) suggests a possible canonical role of brain rhythms in the temporal logistics of neural operations. Are logistical functions of neural oscillations pervasive to temporal cognition (van Wassenhove, 2016)?  Can distinct neurophysiological markers index the structuring of events in time specifically for temporal cognition (Kösem et al.,  2014; Grabot et al., 2017)?