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Team “PICNIC Lab: Physiological investigations of clinically normal and impaired cognition”


Our team is devoted to the study of cognitive functions with an exclusive or prevalent development in humans, namely language, conscious cognition, and attention. Our studies include the investigation of normal cognition in healthy subjects, as well as the study of brain-damaged patients, their disorders and their rehabilitation. Methods include behavioural investigations and state-of-the-art multimodal brain imaging techniques.



Our research activity revolves around the study of higher cognitive functions, particularly language and reading. A main focus of the lab has been the understanding of the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA), a region in the ventral visual cortex subtending the recognition of letters and words that can only specialize over the course of reading acquisition. One question under investigation is the cause for such a reproducible specialization for words, which may be found in its optimal wiring with language areas. Another interesting scenario is the development of this area in the congenitally blind with a sensory deprived brain that had never received visual input.


Our research interests mainly focus on the cognitive neuroscience of visuospatial attention and high-level visual processing.

We recently showed that:

  • Attention is required to produce the predictive corrections of location that are required for our accurate interactions with an ever-changing environment.
  • An early, abrupt spontaneous sensory attenuation in the normal brain can determine a prolonged and dramatic consciousness state such as mind wandering.
  • Left occipito-temporal areas and the callosal splenium are essential to connect color perception with mechanisms important for color categorization/naming.
  • We are now investigating the neural dynamics of attention with depth electrodes implanted in the brain of patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.


Our team explores consciousness level and cognitive residual abilities in patients suffering from both acute and chronic disorder of consciousness after brain injuries. We use several exploration approaches: Clinical neurology (dedicated scales), electrophysiology (EEG, Evoked Potentials), Neuro-imagery (PET-scan, MRI, functional MRI) and have begun therapeutic interventions (eg tDCS, pharmacology).

In parallel, our team also explores consciousness in healthy subjects and is particularly interested in understanding the extent to which unconscious information can influence our cognitive processes. For example, we are curently assessing wether subliminal information can have long lasting effects on attentional processes; but also whether we process regularities and irregularities of our environment at an unconscious level. Recently, we have extended our research on the perception of irregularities to the conscious level. Within this scope, and using several neuroimaging techniques (such as fMRI and sEEG), we are investigating the various mechanisms that allow us to deal with our internal inconsistencies.

Major publications

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