85-408/709: Visual Cognition

Fall 2013, Tue/Thu 1:30-2:50pm, Baker 336B

Instructor: David Plaut
Baker 254N, x85145


Recognizing an object, face or word is a complex process which is mastered with little effort by humans. This course adopts a three-pronged approach, drawing on psychological, neural and computational models to explore a range of topics including early vision, visual attention, face recognition, reading, object recognition, and visual imagery. The course will take a seminar format.

The course is divided into five sections: 1) General background; 2) Object recognition; 3) Face recognition; 4) Word recognition; and 5) Attention and spatial cognition. The first section will consist of standard lectures, but each of the remaining sections will involve in-class discussion of one or two assigned articles, led by a student (or occasionally by a guest lecturer). In addition to reading the articles and participating in class discussions, students will be expected to write four short essays (one for each of Sections 2-5; the essay for Section 3 will be done in class, the others will be done out of class and should be about 4 pages/1200 words) and a final paper (of about 10 pages/3000 words). The essays will involve synthesizing the assigned readings from the relevant section in order to address a specific question or issues, and the final paper will be on a topic of the student's choice (in consultation with the instructor).

Course goals and evaluation

Below are the broad goals of the course and how each is assessed (listed in brackets).

The grading in the class will be divided up as follows:

Essays on Sections 2-5 15% each
Final paper 30%
Class participation: 10%

The out-of-class essays should be handed in as physical print-outs and are due at the beginning of class on the date listed in the Syllabus. The final paper should be submitted as a pdf file via email. The 10% for class participation will be based on the quality of the in-class article presentation and on contributions to class discussions throughout the semester. Late penalties: Essays handed in late will be penalized by 5% for each day late, up to a maximum penalty of 25%. Late essays may be submitted as a pdf file by email.


There is no required text for the course. All assigned readings are available as downloadable pdf files from links in the Syllabus below. The syllabus also contains some optional readings (in parentheses and preceded by optional:) that are made available in case you want to learn about a particular topic in more depth. (Students who are presenting a given topic should at least familiarize themselves with any optional readings for that topic.) Other course materials (e.g., descriptions of essay/paper assignments) will be made available via links within Blackboard.


Section 1: General background

Aug 27 (Tue): Basic organization of the visual system (slides)

Aug 29 (Thu): Methods in cognitive neuroscience (slides)

Sep 3 (Tue): Intermediate-level vision and perceptual organization (slides)

Sep 5 (Thu): NO CLASS (Rosh Hashana)

Section 2: Object recognition

Sep 10 (Tue): Behavioral studies/overview of object recognition (slides)

Sep 12 (Thu): Neuropsychological studies of object recognition (visual agnosia) (slides)

Sep 17 (Tue): Neurophysiology of object recognition [led by C. Olson]

Sep 19 (Thu): NO CLASS (Sukkot)

Sep 24 (Tue): Functional neuroimaging of object recognition (slides)

Sep 26 (Thu): Computational approaches to object recognition (slides)

Section 3: Face recognition

Oct 1 (Tue): Behavioral studies/overview of face recognition (slides)

Oct 3 (Thu): Functional neuroimaging of face recognition (slides) [led by C. Burlingham]

Oct 8 (Tue): Neuropsychological studies of face recognition (prosopagnosia) (slides) [led by M. Behrmann]

Oct 10 (Thu): Neurophysiology of face recognition (slides)

Oct 15 (Tue): Computational approaches to face recognition (slides)


Section 4: Word recognition

Oct 22 (Tue): Behavioral studies/overview of word recognition (slides)

Oct 24 (Thu): Neuropsychological studies of word recognition (slides)

Oct 29 (Tue): Functional neuroimaging of word recognition (slides) [led by W. Chang]

Oct 31 (Thu): Computational approaches to word recognition (slides) [led by D. Plaut]

Section 5: Attention and spatial cognition

Nov 5 (Tue): Behavioral studies/overview of attention (slides)

Nov 7 (Thu): Space- vs. object-based attention (slides)

Nov 12 (Tue): Neuropsychological studies (hemispatial neglect) (slides) [led by A. Millette]

Nov 14 (Thu): Perception for action ("where" vs. "how") (slides)

Nov 19 (Tue): Functional neuroimaging of attention (slides) [led by A. Marcus]

Nov 21 (Thu): Neurophysiology of attention (slides) [led by R. Asbel]


Nov 26 (Tue): Computational approaches to attention (slides)

Nov 28 (Thu): NO CLASS (Thanksgiving)

Dec 3 (Tue): Eye movements and reaching [led by W. Wang]

Dec 5 (Thu): Frontal contributions, open issues

Dec 6 (Fri) 5pm: FINAL PAPER DUE