Newborn infants see poorly and develop adult levels of visual sensitivity over a protracted time course. The broad goal of my research is to understand the neural mechanisms that underly this developmental process. We use a combination of behavioral, physiological, and anatomical methods to study development. My approach is to document the time course over which particular visual functions normally develop using quantitative psychophysical methods. We then directly compare the developmental time course with the concurrent variation in the structure and function of the visual system. We can then draw conclusions as to the neural limitations on visual performance in infants and what changes take place postnatally that permit the attainment of normal adult visual function.
A second major focus of the work in my lab is to understand how the normal developmental process is affected by postnatal visual experience. A persistant problem in pediatric ophthalmology is a condition known as amblyopia: poor visual acuity that has no associatd organic cause. Amblyopia develops in approximately 4% of children. It is associated with strabismus (a misalignment of the eyes), anisometropia (blur in one eye), and cataract (opacity in one or both eyes), among other conditions, when they occur during infancy and early childhood and is not correctable beyond childhood. We have established an animal model for studying amblyopia. We study how amblyopia develops, explore the psychophysical and perceptual characteristics of the disorder, and examine the neural mechanisms that are disrupted as a result of the abnormal visual experience. The overall goal of this aspect of the work is to understand the neural processes that are affected, define the critical time periods for these effects, and develop preventative and therapeutic interventions.
We are currently investigating the global perceptual effects of amblyopia. We study the ability of normal and amblyopic animals to integrate information over space and time to extract global percepts from noisy backgrounds and segment figures from background. We have found these functions develop quite late, compared to acuity, in normal infants and are severely compromised in amblyopia. We belive that these visual losses are related to disorders of processing in extrastriate visual areas. In addition, we are currently beginning studies investigating the interface between perceptual development and cognitive development.
I received my Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology from the University of Washington in 1982. Under the direction of Davida Teller and Ronald Boothe, I studied the development of contrast sensitivity in normal, amblyopic, and naturally strabismic monkeys. In 1985, following three years of postdoctoral work with Anita Hendrickson in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Washington, I joined the faculty of New York University.