The central crux of my research focuses on the hypothesis that early sensory and language experiences during development have an impact on visual perception and cognition, and that, more centrally, the way early experience changes perception reflects the dynamic plasticity of the brain. Since it is unethical to manipulate visual input in humans, I address this hypothesis by targeting special populations of infants and adults, who have natural forms of atypical sensory input. The central questions I investigate are:
- How does abnormal visual input (as in the case of a natural ocular misalignment, which feeds double images to the brain) impact visual perception?
- Does the total absence of sensory input (as in the case of deafness) alter remaining, intact visual perceptual abilities?
- How does experience with language in a different sensory modality (i.e., a visual instead of spoken language) impact perception, cognition, and language processing?
- Does extra or enriched visual experience have a beneficial impact on vision? For example, in young babies, as with extra television exposure or in healthy babies who see the world “early” due to premature birth, or in signers who have practice seeing a visual language?
I address these questions by measuring visual sensitivity in populations of typical and atypical populations of infants, children and adults, each addressed in detail below. From this work, we can better understand the effects of early atypical sensory experiences on different aspects of visual perception and the underlying neural mechanisms. And, most importantly, we can learn what the visual strengths are that the innovative human brain devises to accommodate different forms of visual input.