Perceptual-Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

The focus of Dr. Pamela Butler’s Perceptual-Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory is to: 1) elucidate the neural basis of perceptual dysfunction in schizophrenia and other disorders; 2) develop perceptual biomarkers for use in clinical trials; and 3) study the interface between perceptual, cognitive, and social impairment in psychiatric disorders.  


Our main research focus is on psychiatric disorders, particularly schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia have impairments in both cognition and lower-level neural systems. Our research group investigates deficits in “bottom-up” and “top-down” processes in this disorder. In this vein, we have assessed basic visual perceptual function in schizophrenia and the role of lower-level visual deficits in higher-level cognitive dysfunction, including social cognition. Our studies have revealed deficits in such basic processes as contrast, motion, and spatial frequency perception, as well as the ability to integrate parts of a visual scene into a coherent whole. Using electrophysiological as well as MRI techniques, we showed that these deficits occur at an early stage of processing and implicate reduced input to visual cortex. These deficits impact higher-level processes including object, face, and emotion recognition. In addition, we are pursuing cognitive training strategies utilizing visual perceptual approaches, and developing perceptual tasks to serve as outcome measures in clinical trials and for use as biomarkers. People with schizophrenia have severe impairments in social cognition and motivation, which are a leading cause of poor long-term function in this disorder. A recent research initiative in our laboratory involves the examination of social reward learning and decision making in schizophrenia and autism. 

Current Investigations

Visual perceptual impairments in schizophrenia, including both retinal and brain functions
Development of biomarkers and perceptual methods for use in clinical trials
Relationship between visual perceptual deficits and higher-level dysfunction
Novel intervention approaches to improve perceptual processing and its impact on social cognition
Social and non-social reward processing in schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorders