Often we don't have control over the environment in which we live. And since we can't change the world around us, the best we can do is change the way we react to it. Our lab is interested in how the brain allows us to adapt the way we make decisions, so that we can make the best of the hand we are dealt.
Mathematical Models of Cognition
If there is a theory of a psychological process, like memory, it can often be implemented as a mathematical model, or essentially a series of equations. Models can make precise predictions about how different factors should affect behavior, and these predictions can be tested to assess the validity of the model. We use modeling as a general tool for guiding research and testing theories of cognitive and neural function. The primary model we employ is the drift-diffusion model of simple decisions, which allows us to explore how cautious people are when they decide and how they weight different factors in the decision.
Drift diffusion model of simple decisions
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows us to track neural activation and relate it to cognitive processes. We have participants perform cognitive tasks like trying to remember a list of words, and scan them to explore which systems in the brain are involved. With fMRI data, we can investigate which regions relate to different processes, how objects and thoughts are represented in patterns of neural activity, and how these different neural systems communicate with each other.
Adaptively biasing simple decisions
We can adjust our bias, or preference, for different options in a number of ways. Our work explores how people use previous experience and information to adjust their expectations about which option will be most favorable, and how they weight different factors when evaluating different items for consideration. We look to see how we can dissociate these different types of bias in behavioral data, as well as the brain.
Activation when biasing perceptual decisions
Cognitive biases in mood disorders
Mood disorders associated with high levels on anxiety and depression often involve biased cognitive processing. For example, individuals with high anxiety are often biased to process things they feel are threatening or worrisome. Using modeling and neuroimaging, we seek to understand how emotions affect memory and decision making, and how this relates to cognitive bias in mood disorders. The goal is to provide useful information for clinical researchers who look to target and reduce this biased processing.
Enhanced threat processing for participants with high anxiety
Individual differences in executive function
Executive control includes, among other things, the abilities to inhibit desired actions and to focus attention on relevant information. We are interested in understanding how executive control is used to improve performance in different tasks. Further we explore the neural systems that implement control with the hope of understanding why some individuals have difficulty inhibiting behaviors that are harmful to themselves and/or others.
Greater activation for people with better inhibitory control