Vanessa is interested in how the brain learns to relate information accumulated from different end organs (e.g. eyes, ears, skin, mouth and nose—each with its own processing delays and physiological limitations) into a single, unified percept of the world. In order for the brain to recreate the outside world, the senses must carry amodal stimulus attributes, such as spatial and temporal properties.
Her questions include:
Vanessa has also begun to extend her multisensory research to include populations that process spatial and temporal properties differently. She has looked at crossmodal attention in people with developmental dyslexia. She is also investigating multisensory neural plasticity in the blind brain. Most research with clinical populations has investigated single modality processing. Very little research has looked at how these clinical populations combine multisensory stimuli. Vanessa is interested in determining which reference frames they use—and which neural networks are involved—when they perform multisensory tasks.
Understanding how the blind brain solves the multisensory reconstitution problem has implications for high-tech interface design (making devices more intuitive and easy to learn).
Vanessa Harrar currently holds a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, administered by the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR). Previously, she was the recipient of Natural Science Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Masters and PhD scholarships. She was also awarded the Mary Somerville Junior Research Fellowship, a prestigious stipendiary fellowship from Somerville College at Oxford University. Her research is currently funded by the Oxford-McGill Neuroscience Collaboration Fund.