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Research Interests

The work in Dr. Averbeck's group focuses on understanding the neural circuits that underlie learning in the context of decision making. Much of the work focuses on frontal-striatal circuits and dopamine modulation, as these systems underlie value guided choices. Recent experiments have also examined the role of the amygdala in these processes. The lab uses multiple convergent techniques including pharmacology, neurophysiology, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and computational modeling of behavior. There is an emphasis on approaches and behaviors that can be used across animal models and human participants including patients. The animal models allow for hypothesis driven examination of the neural circuits and mechanisms that underlie behavior in both healthy and clinical groups. Specific projects include a comparison of prefrontal cortex and the striatum in a task where choices are driven by immediately available or learned information. In this project Dr. Eunjeong Lee has found that the striatum contains an enriched representation of choice value, whether value is driven by immediately available information or reinforcement of past choices. In addition, injection of dopamine antagonists locally into the dorsal striatum decreases performance when it is driven by reinforcement of past outcomes, but not when it is driven by immediately available information. In another project Dr. Vincent Costa has been examining preference for novelty in the context of the explore-exploit trade-off. He has found that blocking dopamine reuptake systemically increases preference for novelty. Furthermore, lesions of the amygdala also increase preference for novelty. However, when the amygdala is lesioned the novelty preference becomes less sensitive to contexts where exploration of novel choices is more beneficial.

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This page was last updated January 2015