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UW Crest with engineering background
9/08/2022

Nowak and Vinayak part of grant to study cognitive finger prints

Written By: Jason Daley

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Photo of Ramya Korlakai Vinayak
Ramya Vinayak

Assistant Professor Ramya Vinayak and Keith and Jane Morgan Nosbusch Professor Rob Nowak, both in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are part of a National Science Foundation-funded multi-disciplinary project called “Uncovering the cognitive and neural fingerprints that make each of us unique.”

UW-Madison psychology professor Tim Rogers is the principal investigator for the project and Vinayak and Nowak are co-PIs, along with UW-Madison Psychology Professor Brad Postle.

Rob Nowak
Rob Nowak

Much research assumes that people share a common cognitive and neural “template” that only differs subtly and randomly from person to person. But other studies have shown that there can be substantial variation in minds and brains across different groups. For instance, language relies on different brain systems for left-handed people than right handed people, and students who struggle to read show different patterns of neural connectivity compared to fluent readers.

In this project, the team will combine new computational insights, functional brain imaging and brain stimulation to characterize variability in the mental and neural structures that support perception, language, social cognition and high-order thought. The team plans to develop new theory and algorithms for signal discovery in behavioral and neural data, and using these methods to identify commonalities and differences across individuals in the structure of their mental representations and the corresponding neural underpinnings.

This work has the potential to impact human health and patterns of recovery from brain damage, approaches to education for typical and atypical populations and other fields of science that can benefit from discovery of patterned variation.