Neurophysiology of learning, decision-making and action selection
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A key question in the behavioral sciences is how we determine the best course of action among competing alternatives. We often must make decisions that require a consideration of both our internal needs and goals as well as the potential costs of meeting those needs. How do we ensure that we consistently make decisions that will most efficiently realize our needs and goals?
Areas of the frontal cortex, in particular the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) appear to play an important role in this process, as damage to these areas has been associated with dramatic changes in emotion, cognition and decision-making. Dysfunction of these areas has also been associated with neuropsychiatric illnesses that disrupt choice behavior, particularly those that involve compulsive or impulsive choices (e.g., depression, addiction, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Understanding the functions of these areas is therefore crucial for understanding decision-making in both health and disease.
Our working philosophy is that to understand behavior in both health and disease, we must understand the anatomical networks and neural computations/mechanisms that support behavior. To accomplish this, we use a range of methodological approaches including electrophysiology (single neuron, local field potentials), human neuroimaging (fMRI, MEG), and biophysical and computational modeling. We also test causal links between these brain regions and behavior by testing specific patient populations and using reversible inactivation (pharmacological or stimulation) techniques.
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