2015 Young Investigator – John Serences

John Serences

Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego

Trained at Johns Hopkins University, John Serences was awarded the PhD in Psychological and Brain Sciences in 2005 under the supervision of Steven Yantis. After one year of post-doctoral training at the Salk with Geoffrey Boynton, he took up a faculty position at University of California, Irvine in 2007 before moving to University of California, San Diego in 2008, where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2011.

Dr. Serences is an internationally recognized leader in the field of visual attention and a pioneer of cutting edge quantitative and neuroimaging techniques. He has adopted an interdisciplinary approach that combines psychophysics, cognitive behavioral modeling, functional MRI, and EEG to make significant contributions in the fields of visual attention, working memory, perceptual decision making, and perceptual learning. Dr. Serences has developed cutting edge data analyses that open up new possibilities for the types of questions that can be addressed with human neuroimaging tools.

In his early work, Dr. Serences demonstrated that transient neural signals – emanating from either inferior or superior parietal cortex – play a key role in reinitializing the visual system so that relevant sensory stimuli can guide future acts of stimulus selection. His work on feature-based attention demonstrated that feature-specific attentional modulations spread across the visual field – even to regions of the scene that do not contain a stimulus. In this recent work, Dr. Serences developed a method for quantifying feature-selective responses in human visual cortex, which offers profound opportunities to build on our existing knowledge of sensory processing derived from single-unit recordings and provide novel insight into population-level representations of simple stimulus properties. He also used an encoding model to reconstruct the spatial representations of a stimulus under different task demands from fMRI activation patterns across cortical regions of interest. He showed that spatial attention enhances stimulus representations in higher-order visual areas but not in earlier visual areas, consistent with the spatial priority map framework.

Dr. Serences is not only prolific, but he exhibits an unwavering commitment to mentorship – resulting in a team of highly motivated and proficient students – and fosters long-lasting collaborations across universities and disciplines. With his development and application of cutting-edge quantitative methods in human neuroimaging, Dr. Serences is changing the face of vision research.

Selective attention and visual information processing

Monday, May 18, 12:30 pm, Talk Room 2

Selective information processing – or selective attention – is supported by changes in neural gain, changes in neural variability, and changes in the shape of tuning functions. Traditionally, these effects have been examined in isolation and researchers have tried to infer how each type of modulation impacts the information content of sensory codes. However, examining each modulatory effect in isolation can obscure our understanding of how attention dynamically shapes the quality of perceptual representations. Fortunately, new techniques can more precisely characterize large-scale neural activity patterns, and I will discuss how several such approaches can reveal insights about the joint impact of attentional modulations on information processing in visual cortex.