Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Neuro psychology mini-conference at UEL

The conference at the University of East London was organised by Dr Ashok Jansari and Rebecca Gordon as a way of bringing together the research teams associated with Ash's diverse research interests around prosopagnosia, synaesthesia and ways of measuring executive functions in children (JAAM-C).

Ashok gave the key note for this mini-conference, and gave us the hot off the press information on the Live Science experiment about facial recognition he and his team have been doing at London's Science Museum  for the past three months. They had literally finished a day or two before but he was still able to give us some snapshots of information about what they'd found, including identifying a healthy number of "super-recognisers", ie people who scored extremely highly in recognising faces in their tests. Apparently there are some people who claim to be able to remember faces even years after a fleeting meeting, and this is the opposite of prosopagnosia (AKA face-blindness, which is the subject of part of my PhD) where subjects have serious problems in being able to recognise faces at all. You can do the online Cambridge face test here if you fancy seeing if you are a super recogniser. If you are please contact Ashok!

Naomi Wells talked about her forthcoming comparative study of developmental, early acquired and late acquired prosopagnosia. One of the issues I am finding about prosopagnosia is that it manifests in very different ways depending on whether you were born with it or have acquired it later in life. I was quite relieved to hear that these differences are acknowledged issues and it was fascinating throughout the afternoon or presentations to hear information I've heard anecdotally being backed up with scientifically proven figures, graphs and studies.

Rebecca Gordon talked about her Msc project using a virtual reality environment to measure executive function (also known as 'superior cognitive constructs', which I loosely translated as the process of growing up and maturing which happens - hopefully - during adolescence) which was really fascinating and a wonderful example of using game/animated environments to find out about reality (I claim this as a score for the validity of animated documentary!).

I was going to attend anyway but I was really pleased to be asked to present my PhD work in progress about prosopagnosia too, despite its very different provenance from the rest of the (super-scientific-brainiac) research. I always feel it can go one of two ways when you present across disciplines; either they won't know what you're on about and will be baffled by the relevance to their area, or else they'll slightly over-value its difference from the rest of the papers and really enjoy it. Luckily it was the latter this time. Who doesn't love a bit of cartoon?

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