Learning lays the foundation for motivated behavior enabling us to anticipate and respond to salient events in our environment. Research in our lab focuses on characterizing the diverse learning, memory, and decision-making processes that support adaptive behavioral flexibility. We use an array of methodological techniques in this work including neuroimaging, psychophysiology, computational modeling, and genetics, in conjunction with experimental paradigms that draw upon both animal learning and economic decision theories. Our work address these two central questions:
What cognitive, computational, and neural processes inform our motivated actions and choices?
All organisms seek to avoid negative experiences and to receive rewards. To accomplish these fundamental goals, we must learn which actions are beneficial, perform them efficiently, and modify our behavior in accordance with changes in our environment or our current needs. Such flexibility is enabled by a rich repertoire of learning processes and behavioral control "systems" (e.g., Pavlovian, goal-directed, habitual), which differ in terms of how information is represented, updated, accessed, and utilized. Our research attempts to elucidate, at the cognitive, computational, and neural levels, how these multiple behavioral control systems interact and compete to guide our actions and choices.
How (and why) do behavioral control processes change over development and vary across individuals?
Across development, both the brain circuits and behavioral capabilities of an organism undergo pronounced changes. An evolutionarily refined developmental "program" interacts with an individual's unique experiences to tailor both brain and behavior to the informational landscape and functional demands of the environment. In our work, we examine the changes in brain dynamics and cognitive processes underpinning the development of behavioral control, as well as the factors that facilitate or constrain the behavioral flexibility of a given individual.