Cognition and Behavior


Building on strengths in cognitive neuroscience and psychology, the Carney Institute for Brain Science’s study of cognition and behavior advances knowledge about the “outputs” of brain activity. This includes a variety of related fields, including cognition, decision making, cognitive development, emotion, memory and attention.

“This area requires an integrated approach,” said Diane Lipscombe, professor of neuroscience and the Institute’s director. “Colleagues in neuroscience and cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences are connecting with physicians and scientists in psychiatry, neurology and neurosurgery to address these questions of higher brain function.”

Bridges are essential. Amitai Shenhav, assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, also has an appointment in psychiatry and was recruited jointly by those departments with assistance by the Institute. Shenhav is investigating how people weigh costs and benefits of decisions and then overcome biases and exert control to make a decision. He is also evaluating how these systems function differently in disorders such as ADHD or obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Larger-scale collaborations are also essential. The Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART) is a statewide, multifaceted effort to enroll subjects with autism in a research registry. Launched with an investment by the institute and others, and subsequently with major funding from the Simons Foundation, the registry enables studies on cognition and behavior related to autism and neurodevelopmental disorders to help understanding of these conditions and improve treatment.

In another example of the institute’s research in this area, David Badre, associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, focuses on the cognitive neuroscience of memory and cognitive control, with an emphasis on frontal lobe function and organization.

In recent research, Badre collaborated with Theresa Desrochers, now an assistant professor of neuroscience and assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior. They found evidence that a specific region of the brain is essential for resolving uncertainty that can build as people progress through an everyday sequence of tasks. The study helped explain what makes healthy behavior work and could provide important information for psychiatrists and neurologists.

Desrochers’ research is focused on the mechanisms of cognitive sequence control, looking at the ordering sequences of cognitive actions to understand this capacity from single neurons to networks of brain areas.

Other research in the field of cognition and behavior includes that of Dima Amso, an associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, who studies the development of attention and memory using combined behavioral, genetic and neuroimaging measures. Amso recently found evidence in a study of 8-month-olds that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the prefrontal cortex of the brain does contribute to learning during infancy. Amso also collaborates with computational neuroscientist Thomas Serre, associate professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, to use machine learning to collect high-fidelity behavioral data.