Neural Basis of Executive Control and Decision Making
The goal of the Computational and Systems Laboratory is to understand the role of the frontal cortex and basal ganglia in value-based decision making, food-seeking behavior, and the cognitive control of action. We wish to understand how frontal regions of the brain learn predictive relationships between stimuli and outcomes (such as food) and control action selection. We are carrying out three lines of research related to these topics. First, we are studying how errors influence neuronal activity to improve future task performance. Second, we are studying how the values of external stimuli are learned and flexibly tracked under changing environmental circumstances and how these aspects of stimuli and actions are mapped onto neuronal activity. Third, we are studying how working memory, based on persistent firing by neurons in the frontal cortex, is used to link together sequences of goal-directed actions. To study these issues, we use multi-electrode recording methods in awake, behaving rodents, methods for reversible inactivating brain regions (e.g., fluorescent muscimol, optogenetics), and tract-tracing methods. We are also active in developing methods for quantifying how neuronal spike trains and population activity represent information about behavior and how spike trains relate to fluctuations in local field potentials.