Keynote Speaker:  Barbara L. Finlay
Chair:  Marta Kutas

Friday, October 26, 8:30 – 9:30 am, Kursaal Auditorium

Barbara Finlay received her Ph.D. from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 1976, working both in visual physiology and developmental neurobiology. She immediately joined the Department of Psychology at Cornell University, where she has remained (with additional appointments there in Cognitive Science, and Neurobiology and Behavior, and more recently, Weill-Cornell Medical College). She became co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2002. A continuing collaboration of nearly twenty years with Luiz Carlos de Lima Silveira and colleagues at the Universidade Federal do Pará, Belém, Brazil on the evolution and development of New World monkey brains and eyes informs much of her present work. This “evo-devo” approach examines how conserved developmental mechanisms channel the paths of evolution of the brain and sensory systems, and structure information processing in existing brains.

Beyond columns and areas: developmental gradients and regionalization of the neocortex and their likely consequences for functional organization

Behavioral and Evolutionary Neuroscience Group, Cornell University

Descriptions of the cerebral cortex may emphasize its modularity by highlighting the unique features of cortical areas, such as primary visual cortex or Broca’s area, or may emphasize its uniformity, such as the repeating unit of the cortical column. Implicit in their research designs, current work in functional imaging emphasizes local specialization, while studies of functional connectivity feature the global organization of minimally-specified local units.  The cortical sheet, however, has intrinsic organizational features than these two, notably a striking anterior-to–posterior gradient in neuron number per column, neuron size, process elaboration and neuronal density.  This gradient interacts with a directionally-biased axonal output arising from primary visual, somatic and motor regions to progressively reduce the number of neurons coding each subsequent representation.  This pervasive anterior-to-posterior reduction of neuron number and convergence of axonal projections may correspond directly to the increasing abstraction of information observed individually and collectively across sensory, motor and executive domains along  the same anterior-posterior axis.