Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Education & Training
Ph.D., University of California at Los Angeles 2004
I am interested in understanding the neural mechanisms underlying goal-directed actions. For the first time in history, advances in psychology and neurobiology have made it feasible to pursue the detailed neural mechanisms underlying goal-directed and voluntary actions--how they are driven by the needs and desires of the organism and controlled by cognitive processes that provide a rich representation of the self and the world. My approach to this problem is highly integrative, combining behavioral analysis with electrophysiological techniques as well as tools from molecular biology. In the near future three techniques will be emphasized. 1) Dissecting reward-guided behavior using analytical behavioral assays. 2) In vivo recording from cerebral cortex, thalamus, midbrain, and basal ganglia in awake behaving rodents. Up to hundreds of neurons can be recorded from multiple brain areas that form a functional neural network in a single animal. 3) In vitro (and ex vivo) whole-cell patch-clamp recording in brain slices, with the aid of genetic tools for visualization of distinct neuronal populations. Ultimately, I hope to characterize goal-directed actions at multiple levels of analysis--from molecules to neural networks. This knowledge will provide us with insight into various pathological conditions characterized by impaired goal-directed behaviors, such as drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease.
Reward, action, goal, learning, habit, basal ganglia, brain, motivation