Professor Beatrice de GelderThe Washington Post article Even a Blind Man Can See said
After two strokes, he was completely blind, dependent on his cane and his wife’s arm to safely walk down the street. But researchers had a hunch: They suspected that, unconsciously, the man might be sensing the world around him through his eyes better than anyone realized.
So the neuroscientists devised a simple experiment: They asked the man to walk down a long hallway unaided by his cane or anyone else without telling him they had turned the corridor into a makeshift maze by randomly placing boxes, chairs, and other objects in his path.
To their astonishment, the man deftly maneuvered past every obstacle. Then he turned around and did it again, prompting the stunned researchers to burst into applause.
“We were so excited,” said Beatrice de Gelder, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and Harvard Medical School, who reports the experiment today in the journal Current Biology. “It was really quite amazing to see.”
Beatrice de Gelder, Ph.D. is Head of the Cognitive and Affective
Neuroscience Lab, Tilburg University.
Bea’s laboratory investigates cognition and emotion in humans. Her projects include investigations of cognition and emotion of neurologically intact participants but also in patients with focal brain lesions, prosopagnosia, and neuropsychiatric populations such as people with schizophrenia, autism, and Williams syndrome. She uses behavioral methods, electrophysiology, EMG, as well as functional imaging.
Four main strands of interest encompass her research activity:
Multisensory perception and the interaction between auditory and visual processes
Cross-modal integration in speech perception, audio-visual localization, and the perception of affect are all investigated. The latter research concerns the interaction between identification of the emotional expression portrayed in the face simultaneously with the tone of voice in which sentences are spoken.
Face recognition and its deficits
Bea and her research team have carried out a wide variety of studies in this area. The most important finding to date has been that prosopagnosics’ face identification performance was improved by inversion of face stimuli (the opposite is true for normal subjects). The theoretical implications of this paradoxical “inversion superiority” phenomenon in these patients has been incorporated into a new theory of face processing.
Non-conscious recognition in patients with cortical damage
She has carried out novel research on the ability of patients with striate cortex lesions to identify the emotional meaning of visual stimuli of which they are not aware. Such non-conscious recognition was hitherto not deemed possible in these patients. Her group has also recently developed a new, indirect methodology for studying non-conscious recognition of facial expressions.
Emotional expression in whole bodies
The computer crashes. What do we do? Self-consciously scratch our heads, fruitlessly fiddle with the computer, tear our hair, and nervously bite our lips. Even though we don’t utter a single word, anybody watching would know exactly what’s going on inside. Our body language is part of us. Because emotions, gestures, and facial expressions are linked up in the brain, even people who were born deaf and blind will turn down the corners of their mouths to express sadness and smile to show that they are happy.
Bea authored Speech And Reading and Knowledge and Representation, and coedited Out of Mind: Varieties of Unconscious Processes.
Her papers include Decreased differential activity in the amygdala in response to fearful expressions in Type D personality, Audiovisual emotion recognition in schizophrenia: Reduced integration of facial and vocal affect, Emotional contagion for unseen bodily expressions: Evidence from facial EMG, Recognizing emotions expressed by body pose: a biologically inspired neural model, Pointing with the eyes: the role of gaze in communicating danger, Human and animal sounds influence recognition of body language, and Intact navigation skills after bilateral loss of striate cortex.
Bea holds degrees in both Philosophy and Psychology, and earned her Ph.D. in 1972 from the University of Louvain, Belgium. She began her academic career teaching Philosophy of Science, first in Leiden and then in Tilburg. In the mid nineties she changed her field of interest to Cognitive Science. She continues to actively participate in this burgeoning field.