Research in the lab focuses on the interaction of emotion and cognition in the human brain during learning and decision-making. The lab uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in conjunction with physiological and behavioral measures to obtain converging information aimed at addressing some of the questions below.
1) How does the human brain learn about value (e.g, rewards and punishments)?
a - Basic processes, such as instrumental conditioning (learning a particular choice will lead to a desired outcome) and,
b - More
complex social interactions which are
integral to everyday behavior
General Research Topics
The intrinsic relationship between reward, punishment and behavior
Day to day activities, such as going to work, are performed routinely to either achieve a reward (e.g., receiving a paycheck) or to avoid punishment (e.g., losing your job). Our behavior is motivated by the outcome of our actions, due to societal and survival demands. Therefore, a necessary step in understanding behavior is to understand how knowledge of rewards and punishments is represented in our brain, and how such knowledge leads to learning of new associations that serve to guide goal-directed behavior (e.g., going to work leads to monetary income).
Reward-related processing in the human striatum
The striatum is a multifaceted structure in terms of its connectivity and functionality. Thus, it is a central target of our neural investigations. Current research continues to probe the specific role of the striatum and related circuitry (e.g., amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex) thought to mediate distinct aspects of affective learning, reward-processing and subsequent decision-making.
Translating basic and neural mechanisms from simple to complex decisions
Research in animals has delineated a neural circuitry involved in basic approach/avoidance responses during affective learning and decision-making. It is important to understand if such knowledge translates to the human brain during basic or simple decisions (e.g., approach behavior) and how it extends to more complex decisions that involve social interaction (e.g., approach someone who may or may not be trustworthy).
Emotion-regulation of aversive and appetitive processes
The expectation of rewards and punishments can elicit emotions that can sometimes influence behavior in a maladaptive way (e.g., drug addiction). What are the mechanisms that allow us to regulate our emotions and impulses and arrive at better choices?
The interaction between memory systems and decision-making
How do we make complex decisions? How do we integrate information regarding known facts and personal experience to arrive at a choice? As researchers interested in how the brain learns about rewards and punishments to guide behavior, understanding these types of questions are essential to forming an educated account of human affective learning and decision-making.
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