Marcel Just’s research uses fMRI and other technologies to uncover the structure of human thought. Most recently, his research has been determining the structure of the neural representations of individual concepts, concepts ranging from the representations of concrete objects to numbers to emotions. The research has succeeded in finding and analyzing a neural signature of each such concept. These neural representations or activation patterns are remarkably similar across people. Furthermore, the neural representations of concepts that are relevant to a psychopathology are systematically altered, sufficiently so that the alterations provide additional diagnostic evidence of the disorder.
The central goal throughout the fMRI studies has been to better understand psychological processes by examining the underlying neural functioning. His laboratory has made many significant contributions in the areas of conceptual processing, which was funded in large part by a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grant, and in autism which was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The autism research developed one of the leading theories of autism (frontal-posterior underconnectivity theory).
The theories and paradigms developed in one area are soon used in another area, such as applying the neurosemantics (machine learning) methods to studying concept representations in autism and suicidal ideation. The findings from the disparate domains are used to continuously develop and update a comprehensive theory of how brain function is related to thought.