D.O. Hebb University Professor, Psychology
Marcel Just has been a pioneer in using brain imaging (fMRI) to understand normal thought and its disorder in autism and dyslexia, focusing on language and problem-solving. Counted among his major discoveries include how the brain compensates for damage from stroke by recruiting “understudy” brain areas; how listening to someone speak while driving reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37% (explaining how cell phones use distracts drivers); how reading remediation produces the first evidence of rewiring the white matter of the brains of children with dyslexia and other reading disabilities; and developing findings and a theory of autism that attributes the disorder to compromised communication between frontal brain areas and the rest of the brain.
Just's research is guided by a computational theory of the human neuroarchitecture called 4CAPS, which provides an encompassing account of the findings. He is also using brain imaging to identify the content of thoughts from their fMRI patterns. For example, this work makes it possible to “read the mind” of someone who is thinking of a familiar object, experiencing an emotion, or reading a sentence.
One application of this approach is to diagnose psychiatric disorders by detecting alterations of thought patterns that characterize the disorder, such as altered thoughts of social interactions in autism. Another application is the study of how to enhance the way individual new scientific concepts come to be represented in a learner’s brain.