Research

last updated: 10/7/2021

Our research focuses on the neural mechanisms that shape social and economic decision making. To examine these issues, we use a combination of behavioral modeling, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and transcranial current stimulation (TCS). Our current work falls under three interrelated themes:

1) Brain Connectivity Underlying Decision Making and Reward Processing. Much of our work has focused on the neural mechanisms that support how humans make social and economic decisions and process the outcomes that result from those decisions. Our studies have shown how connectivity between multiple brain regions contributes to decision making and reward processing. To examine whether brain connectivity plays a causal role in decision making and reward processing, we are using transcranial alternating current stimulation in a wide range of multi-modal studies. This line of work is currently supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

2) Social and Economic Decision Making Across the Lifespan. Our social and economic priorities shift dramatically as we age, leading to changes in motivation and decision making. To examine these changes and understand their implications for health and wellbeing in older adults, we received a pilot grant from the Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience & Aging. This line of research has two long-term goals. First, we seek to develop a better understanding of how changes in responses to social and nonsocial reward are associated with risk factors for developing dementia, particularly apathy, depression, and social withdrawal. Second, we seek to develop a better understanding of the socioemotional and cognitive factors that increase risk for maladaptive decisions, including poor investment strategies and financial exploitation.

3) Linking Aberrant Reward Responses to Psychopathology and Substance Use. Another major focus of our research has been to understand whether and how our work with healthy young adults can be applied to understanding psychopathology and substance use disorders characterized by aberrant responses to reward. This line of work is currently supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The major goals of our research are to understand mechanistic links between incentives and behavior and to translate that knowledge into clinical interventions and improved public policies.