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NSERC Presents 2 Minutes with Allison B. Sekuler

The Amazing, Changing, Aging Brain


Video Name

2 Minutes with Allison B. Sekuler


NSERC Communications



Release Date

March 3, 2011


The "greying population" is the fastest growing group in Canada. Age-related changes in perceptual and neural function have implications for virtually every aspect of our lives—from recreation to transportation, health care and the work force. Recent research shows that although aging leads to declines in some abilities, others are spared and may even improve. This lecture discussed the implications of these changes and the trade-offs in visual and neural processing that occur with age, and evidence will be provided that demonstrates we really can teach older brains new tricks.

Allison B. Sekuler, Professor, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University

Allison B. Sekuler

Our research is focused on basically how does the brain encode information about the world using the visual system, so how does the brain see objects, how does it recognize faces, how does it learn to interact with objects in different ways.

We do a lot of work on neural plasticity, so how does the brain change as a function of experience, as a function of development. And we do a lot of work also on face recognition: how do we recognizes faces, how do we learn who’s friend and who’s foe.

There are a couple of remarkable things that we’ve discovered recently. One of those is that the brain changes throughout the lifetime, and that in fact the brain seems to be able to reorganize itself or rewire itself throughout our lifetime to be able to take advantage of what it’s good at versus what it’s not good at. So older people, for example, when they’re processing information about the world for vision, they might be using parts of the brain – the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex –that would be more likely in young people to be used for things like memory and attention.

The other thing that we’ve learned I think that’s really interesting is that, when we’re training people, even over sort of two days, on what seems to be a very simple task like a face recognition task, what we’re doing in that training is changing people’s brains for a very long time. But one of the things that we’re seeing in terms of the trajectory of our research in the future is building on that basic information to figure out how can we take what we’ve learned and develop, say, new training systems for young people and older people and people with different sorts of disabilities.


An internationally recognized expert in visual processing and aging, Allison Sekuler (PhD, University of California at Berkeley) holds the NSERC Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at McMaster University, where she also serves as Associate Vice-President and Dean of Graduate Studies. Besides maintaining an active and successful administrative, teaching and research career, Dr. Sekuler is a passionate advocate for science outreach. She helped found McMaster University's most successful outreach venture, Science in the City, and was an early advocate for science cafés in Canada. Recently, she served on the founding steering committee for the Science Media Centre of Canada. She is a frequent public lecturer and commentator on scientific and research issues for national and international media, including the Discovery Channel, CBC and the History Channel.

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