Kudos to Colin Camerer

Congratulations to Colin Camerer, who has just been awarded a MacArthur “genius grant”! As one of his PhD students who was there at the inception of neuroeconomics at Caltech, this is incredibly exciting. Amazing how far our field has come in less than a decade.

NIMH R01 Grant

Our R01 submission to the NIMH has obtained final official approval (shakes fist at sequestration)! The grant supports our research in understanding neurological basis of social behavior.

Project Summary: The current proposal aims to study neural mechanisms of social learning in healthy adults as a precursor to understanding the impact of mental illnesses on social functioning. Changes in social behavior are often the first symptoms of a striking array of neuropsychiatric disorders. However, whereas disruptions in memory, motor, or emotional functioning are readily recognized as symptoms of more serious underlying conditions, decision-making deficits are often overlooked, particularly in the social domain. Furthermore, there exist few behavioral measures or biomarkers to quantify such deficits, due in part to our limited knowledge of the underlying neural mechanisms and their relation to mental disorders.

We do so via a tight integration of computational modeling of goal-directed social behavior, and testing the predictions generated using complementary experimental techniques with both fMRI and focal lesion patients. In particular, we focus on the role of dopamine and interactions between the basal ganglia and frontal cortices, which are together critical for goal-directed behavior and known to be affected in a variety of disorders. First, we will use the model, calibrated on observed behavior, to derive trial-by-trial regressors for use in functional neuroimaging experiments. Second, the estimated parameters of the model themselves can be used to compare across health and diseased groups, or find subtypes of the diseased groups. Finally, the neural correlates and the behavioral estimates can be combined in order to find novel brain-behavior markers of diseases. In this way, we seek to provide a unifying account of goal-directed behavior in both social and non-social settings, which has the potential to lead to development of new ways of classifying mental disorders based on dimensions of observable behavior and neurobiological measures.

Welcome to Ignacio Saez

Welcome to our newest member of the lab, Ignacio Saez! Ignacio is a postdoctoral research joining us from Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. He is interested in the biological substrates of decision-making, employing diverse techniques to study how the brain computes value, makes a choice and learns from past experience, from functional neuroimaging to intracranial voltammetry in humans.