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Visual and emotional processing in early Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a chronic degenerative neurological disorder that mainly affects the motor system via a process of irreversible cell death. Currently, treatment is aimed at improving symptoms as no cure exists. Diagnosis and hence treatment unfortunately often occurs once an advanced stage has been reached, i.e., a point at which motor symptoms are obvious and irreversible brain damage has occurred.

The current study is concerned with investigating two non-motor deficits other present in patients with Parkinson's disease.

This project is broadly split into the following two sub-sections:

(i) Visual Processing

Some deficits in the visual system have been shown to be present during the early stages of PD and hence may be suitable candidates for early detection markers. They include deficits in colour vision, spatial vision and additionally a variety of other vision related functions, for example, the involuntary reflex of the pupil to a luminance signal.

The current study will quantify some of the high- and low-level visual deficits associated with the early stages of PD, i.e., the relationship between low-level “texture” perception through to higher-level natural vision, e.g., the perception of complex natural scenes.

(ii) Emotional Processing

A number of emotional deficits have been identified in PD populations, for example, the socially important ability to perceive the expressed emotion conveyed by someone else’s face. It is however unclear as to whether this deterioration is actually due to a deficit in the processes controlling emotional cognition, the currently accepted view, or an alternative proposal that they are actually due to problems occurring earlier in the visual system that in turn input into emotion recognition.

The current study will determine the extent to which the deficit in facial emotion cognition (classification) can be explained as a function of basic visual dysfunction.

This work has the potential to provide new high-level cognitive indicators of Parkinson's disease. We additionally intend the acquired data to compose part of a longer term study that aims to predict the development of dementia.

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Ben Jennings
Dr Ben Jennings - My research is based in the field of human visual perception and predominately employs psychophysical and electrophysiological methods.  A running theme in my research is the interaction of colour and luminance signals in the early visual system (for example, their influence on interocular suppression), through to high-level processing (for example, object recognition and visual working memory). In addition to basic research I am investigating the usefulness of traditional behavioral methods for monitoring the effectiveness of treatments in clinical populations with traumatic brain injuries and schizophrenia. I am also currently conducting a series of experiments that investigate emotion perception based on face stimuli, by employing both psychophysical and eye movement techniques.

Related Research Group(s)

brain scan

Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience - Fundamental and applied research into brain function using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG), eye-tracking, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS), infrared thermography together with psychophysics and cognitive behavioural paradigms in health and disease.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 21/11/2023