How does the brain implement economic choice and self-control?
We are interested in generating brain-based models of reward-based decisions and the processes that help us regulate those decisions. We are especially interested in risk, curiosity, and flexibility, as well as in the fundamental problem of value comparison. We use four complementary techniques:
(1) multi-laminar recordings of single units in reward regions
(2) functional neuroimaging during choice and control
How do we make decisions in naturalistic contexts?
We believe that, while laboratory environments and tasks can be helpful, decisions made in natural contexts are often different, and provide a more realistic measure of brain function. In our experiments, we take inspiration from evolutionary theory, foraging theory, behavioral ecology, and field studies. We are currently developing three new techniques:
(1) Behaviorally complex foraging tasks (think Pac-man)
(2) Virtual foraging tasks (think Wolfenstein)
(3) Freely moving tasks (think hide-and-seek)
Reconciling neurophysiological and mass-action accounts of choice
Two parallel neuroeconomic methods - unit physiology and fMRI - have produced distinct (and often conflicting) accounts of the functional neuroanatomy of the reward system. We are developing techniques to resolve these discrepancies. We plan to combine single unit physiology with fMRI, with the help of our colleagues at the CMRR.
Our ultimate goal is to understand brain circuits associated with drug addiction, depression, and anxiety disorder.
Our research questions are directed that the kinds of mental processes that are compromised in these diseases.