Jan Brascamp came to Wageningen to study Biology. After graduating 5 years later he went to the University of Utrecht to conduct research for a doctoral degree, after which he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States, for his first real job. “I am still in this job. I conduct scientific research at the Vanderbilt University, studying brain processes that are responsible for visual perception (vision) in humans. It is a subject that is on the interface between (neuro) biology and psychology.
This is how we work: We ask experimental subjects to perform a task which requires them to trust their eyesight. For example, detecting a camouflaged object, or judging which emotion a certain actor expresses in a photograph. We try to understand the brain mechanisms that enable the execution of such tasks. We don’t do this just by looking at how the performance of the experimental subjects depends on specific changes in the task (for example a change in color of the camouflaged object, or the gender of the actor in the photo) but also by using brain scans to get images of the brain processes, or even by (temporarily) disturbing them, using magnetic pulses.
In this way we can find out which parts of the brain are involved with certain aspects of human perception, and which are the precise analyses the brain parts can execute. We can also find out how perception and behavior can change when the brain function changes because of experimental manipulations or disease for example.
We are interested in what people observe when they look at something, and how they perform tasks that depend on that observation. Through our research we will be able to better understand how people’s brains function.