How does the brain make decisions and select actions?
Making a decision involves combining ongoing sensory information with prior knowledge before committing to an action. What are the neural mechanisms underlying these stages of a decision?
Theories on decision-making suggest the brain carries out several computations before committing to a choice. Evidence must be sampled, integrated and maintained in working memory before comparing it against a decision threshold, a process informed by prior knowledge. This process is also dependent on certainty of the information, motivational state and social and environmental context.
Research at the SWC focuses at the cellular and circuit levels across multiple brain structures to uncover how these factors influence choice. Key questions are addressed using a variety of decision-making paradigms in rodents, ranging from instinctive behavioural assays to complex tasks that require learning of abstract or changing rules. The underlying neural processes are elucidated by measuring and manipulating activity in identified regions and circuits, applying computational methods to analyse complex datasets, and constructing models that explain decision making. This work will help us generate a theoretical framework about how the brain’s circuits evaluate sensory information to make appropriate choices and how such processes are modified in diseased brain states.