Avniel Singh Ghuman, PhD

  • Associate Professor
  • Director, Cognitive Neurodynamics Lab

Avniel Singh Ghuman, PhD, joined the Department of Neurological Surgery in September of 2011.

Dr. Ghuman received his undergraduate education in math and physics at The Johns Hopkins University. He completed his doctoral education in biophysics at Harvard University. He completed his postdoctoral training at the National Institute of Mental Health prior to joining the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. 

As director of MEG (Magnetoencephalography) Research, one of Dr. Ghuman’s primary roles is to facilitate, develop, and advance clinical and basic neuroscience research using MEG. To this end, he is helping to develop new research applications for MEG in collaboration with researchers throughout the community. MEG is the most powerful functional neuroimaging technique for noninvasively recording magnetic fields generated by electrophysiological brain activity, providing millisecond temporal resolution and adequate spatial resolution of neural events. 

Dr. Ghuman’s research focuses on how our brain turns what falls upon our eyes into the rich meaningful experience that we perceive in the world around us. Specifically, his lab studies the neural basis of the visual perception of objects, faces, words, and social and affective visual images. His lab examines the spatiotemporal dynamics of how neural activity reflects the stages of information processing and how information flow through brain networks responsible for visual perception.

To accomplish these research goals Dr. Ghuman’s lab records electrophysiological brain activity from humans using both invasive (intracranial EEG; iEEG — in collaboration with Jorge Gonzalez-Martinez, MD, PhD) and non-invasive (magnetoencephalography; MEG) measures. In conjunction with these millisecond scale recordings they use multivariate machine learning methods, network analysis, and advanced signal processing techniques to assess the information processing dynamics reflected in brain activity. Additionally, his lab uses direct neural stimulation to examine how disrupting and modulating brain activity alters visual perception. This combination of modalities and analysis techniques allow Dr. Ghuman to ask fine-grained questions about neural information processing and information flow at both the scale of local brain regions and broadly distributed networks.

More information on Dr. Ghuman's research can be found on the Laboratory of Cognitive Neurodynamics webpage.

Specialized Areas of Interest

The dynamics of brain interactions; visual cognition; magnetoencephalography (MEG), intracranial EEG (iEEG); face recognition; reading; social and affective perception.

Professional Organization Membership

Cognitive Neuroscience Society
Organization for Human Brain Mapping
Society for Neuroscience
Vision Sciences Society

Education & Training

  • BA, Math and Physics, The John Hopkins University, 1998
  • PhD, Biophysics, Harvard University, 2007

Honors & Awards

  • NARSAD Young Investigator Award
  • National Institute of Mental Health Award for Innovative New Scientists

Selected Publications

Morett LM, O’Hearn K, Luna B, Ghuman AS. Altered Gesture and Speech Production in Autism Spectrum Disorders Detract from In-Person Communication Quality. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46(3):998-1012, 2016.

Alhourani A, McDowell MM, Randazzo M, Wozny T, Kondylis E, Lipski W, Beck S, Karp JF, Ghuman AS, Richardson RM. Network Effects of Deep Brain Stimulation. Journal of Neurophysiology 114(4):2105-2117, 2015.

Ghuman AS, Brunet NM, Li Y, Konecky RO, Pyles JA, Walls SA, Destefino V, Wang W, Richardson, R.M. (2014). Dynamic encoding of face information in the human fusiform gyrus. Nature Communications 5:5672, 2014.

Hwang K, Ghuman AS, Manoach DS, Jones S, Luna B. Cortical Neurodynamics of Inhibitory Control. Journal of Neuroscience 34(29):9551-9561, 2013.

Ghuman AS, McDaniel JR, Martin A. A Wavelet-Based Method for Measuring the Oscillatory Dynamics of Resting-State Functional Connectivity in MEG. NeuroImage 56(1):69-77, 2011.

Kverega K, Ghuman AS, Kassam KS, Aminoff EM, Hämäläinen MS, Chaumon M, Bar M. Neural Synchronization in the Contextual Association Network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 108(8):3389-3394, 2011.

Ghuman AS, McDaniel JR, Martin A. Face Adaptation Without A Face. Current Biology 20(1):32-36, 2010.

Ghuman AS, Bar M, Dobbins I, Schnyer D. The Effects of Priming on Frontal-Temporal Communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 105(24):8405-8409, 2008.

A complete list of Dr. Ghuman's publications can be reviewed through the National Library of Medicine's publication database.

Research Activities

Dr. Ghuman studies how we use information from a person’s face, body, and motions to assess their actions, intentions, and emotional state. Visual social and affective perception relies on a neural circuit in the temporal lobe of the brain that includes the amygdala, fusiform gyrus, and posterior superior temporal sulcus. While it is clear that these regions are central to social and affective perception, we lack a mechanistic, causal understanding of the neurodynamics and circuit-level interactions in this network that give rise to our understanding of the actions, intentions, and emotional state of others. To fill this knowledge gap, Dr. Ghuman’s lab has been using MEG and electrophysiological recordings from electrodes implanted in the areas of the cortical-limbic network involved in social and affective in individuals undergoing surgical treatment for epilepsy. This yields millisecond-level temporal resolution of how the activity within these regions codes for different facial expressions, intentional actions, inference of mental states of others, etc. Dr. Ghuman’s lab has also used measures of neural communication to understand how information flows among these brain areas during social and affective perception.

The aim of this work is to develop and test a model of social and affective information processing dynamics in the human brain. This model will yield translationally relevant and testable hypotheses regarding spatiotemporal neural targets for using brain stimulation to modulate social and affective perception in a controlled manner. This line of work can ultimately inform evidence-based stimulation therapies for disorders that involve aberrant social and affective perception, such as schizophrenia, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and autism; for example by normalizing the aberrant emotional salience to benign, everyday visual information seen in PTSD. Recently this work has revealed important knowledge about the spatial and temporal dynamics of facial expression processing in one of the most important parts of the social brain, the fusiform gyrus.

Media Appearances

Ability to Recognize Faces Grows With Age, Study Finds
January 5, 2017
The Wall Street Journal

Epilepsy Research Leads To New Insights Into How Our Brains Read
August 16, 2016
WESA Radio Pittsburgh Tech Report

Study shows how words are represented in the brain
July 20, 2016

Decoding Reading in the Brain
July 19, 2016
Cognitive Neuroscience Society

“Reading” The Reading Mind
July 8, 2016