Megan Peters

Megan Peters, University of California, Irvine associate professor of cognitive sciences, has received a $50,000 award from the Scialog: Molecular Basis of Cognition initiative to advance processes that underlie memory and cognition. Funded by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), with additional award funding from The Kavli Foundation, the Walder Foundation, and the Azrieli Foundation, the initiative - short for "science + dialog" - was created to accelerate scientific breakthroughs by stimulating intensive interdisciplinary conversation and community building around a theme of global importance. Peters’ research team – which includes Anna Schapiro, Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, and Marcelo Mattar, Psychology, New York University – will be studying the conscious accessibility of neural replay.

“In the process of building and storing memories, your brain ‘rehearses’ what it has experienced throughout the day during times of rest or sleep,” explains Peters. “Neuroimaging techniques can allow scientists to ‘watch’ or read out this ‘replay’ of neural patterns associated with sequences of events – even in humans, using noninvasive methods like magnetoencephalography (MEG).”

“But while your brain is rehearsing whatever it processed through the day, what are you consciously experiencing? My collaborators in this project have developed MEG methods that we can apply to read out the contents of learned sequences in real time as people’s brains rehearse them, and together we are now developing new analysis and experimental approaches to ask whether people are consciously aware of the replayed sequences – and if so, what that experience might be like,” she says.

Peters studies perception, perceptual decision making, and the subjective experiences that accompany the brain’s ability to understand what we see and make sense of the world around us amidst constant noise. Computational modeling, psychophysics, and non-invasive neuroimaging – MRI, EEG, and brain stimulation – are tools she employs in her Cognitive & Neural Computation Lab to understand how the brain creates subjective experience, behavior, and perception.

Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, CIFAR, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation with findings published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Nature Human Behavior, eLife, and Trends in Cognitive Sciences. She’s created curriculum for GRE and SAT prep courses offered through the nonprofit organization Acceso Academy (which she co-founded) with funding provided by several community organizations including Juntos Podemos/Together We Can Foundation, the Institute for Mexicans Abroad and the Consulate General of Mexico in Los Angeles, and the Central City Neighborhood Partners and the City of Los Angeles. She's also co-founder and president of Neuromatch, a multinational, multifaceted three-week neuroscience networking, mentoring and education program for students and professionals interested in computational neuroscience and deep learning. In 2019, she was named a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar in Brain, Mind and Consciousness, and in 2022, she was named a Fellow in the CIFAR Brain, Mind, and Consciousness Program. Last year, working with another research team, she received Scialog’s Innovation initiative award to study the structure of thought in naturalistic behaviors. 

Peters received her bachelor’s in cognitive science at Brown University, and master’s and Ph.D. in psychology with a concentration in cognitive neuroscience and computational cognition at UCLA. She then worked for three years as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA before she was hired as an assistant professor of bioengineering at UC Riverside. She joined the UCI faculty in March 2020.

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