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Steve Kennerley

Neuronal mechanisms of learning and decision making

Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders

A critical function of the brain is to make adaptive decisions that maximize behavioural outcome. Evidence from patients with brain damage suggests that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is critically important for value-based decision making. Further, dysfunction of PFC is associated with a variety of neuropsychological disorders associated with impaired decision making, including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. To better understand why dysfunction of the PFC can have such life changing consequences, our research aims to characterize the neural computations served by the PFC and basal ganglia which support normal learning, decision making and cognitive function. We use neurophysiological techniques in conjunction with human brain imaging, allowing an examination of functional brain organization from single to networks of neurons. We build theoretical models of neural network activity underlying behaviour, and validate the physiological and model descriptions using reversible interference techniques. We also collaborate with the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit to develop reinforcement learning algorithms to describe behaviour during learning and decision making. 

The specific projects can be adapted to suit individual student interests, but familiarity with MATLAB or C++ is generally a pre-requisite for all data analysis projects.


1) Exploring how value representations bias action selection

2) Exploring the interaction between model-based and model-free reinforcement learning

3) Exploring oscillatory patterns between single neurons and local field potentials in a distributed decision making network


1. Kennerley SW, Behrens TEB, Wallis JD (2011). Double dissociation of value computations in orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate neurons. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 1581-1589.

2. Kennerley SW, Dahmubed AF, Lara AH, Wallis JD (2009). Neurons in the frontal lobe encode the value of multiple decision variables. J. of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21:1162-1178.

3. Kennerley SW, Wallis JD (2009). Reward-dependent modulation of working memory in lateral prefrontal cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 29: 3259-70.

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