US-France Collaboration Award

A US-France collaboration from NIDA has been awarded to support our work with Sacha Gironde at Jean Nicod Institute on understanding the computational substrates of monetary exchange.

Sackler Fellow Award to Ming Hsu

Ming Hsu just received a UC Berkeley-UCSF Sackler Program Fellowship to support translating basic neuroeconomic research to clinical applications. Prof. Hsu will be working with researchers at the UCSF Memory and Aging Center to improve current assessments of decision-making and social deficits, as well as to explore their commercial applications.

K01 Award for Ignacio Saez

Congratulations to Ignacio on his newly awarded K01 application, “Electrocorticography of human prefrontal cortex during value-based decision-making”!

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.

Hellman Fund

Much thanks to Hellman Fund for funding our research for 2012-2013. In addition to the obvious, I am grateful for the thoughtfulness behind the initiation of the fund. Mr. Hellman had observed that junior faculty are often well-funded when first hired. Problems arise in 2-3 years when start-up funding is exhausted and before first grants are obtained. The Fund is designed to assist promising young faculty at this point in their careers. On the other hand, one of the significant tradeoffs of being in departments not used to supporting expensive science (first economics, now marketing) is that being “well-funded” is a rather alien concept to me. Not a complaint, just an observation. :-)