Project Title: Dissociation of Value Signals and Task State Representations in the Brain (Advisor: David Badre; Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences)
What is your major/concentration?
I am concentrating in cognitive neuroscience.
What year will you graduate?
I will graduate in the spring of 2019.
Where are you from?
I am from Charlotte, North Carolina.
What were your academic interests in high school?
In high school I was interested in chemistry, literature, and math.
What is your favorite activity outside of the classroom?
I love going for long bike rides. The feeling of the wind, the speed and the sense of freedom are all very wonderful. (I am currently planning to bike the northern half of Baja California with my partner in a couple of weeks)
Why did you decide to pursue research in brain science?
I am an introspective person who often asks myself why I made a certain decision or how an old memory can seem to rise from the depths of my subconscious and be as vivid as if I was experiencing it for the first time. This lead to an interest in psychology, and overtime I became fascinated with models of cognition because they gave explanations to those introspective questions, and I became fascinated in the brain because it seemed clear to me that it must inform how our cognition actually works.
Can you tell us a little about your project and what you found?
My project seeks to understand the specific role of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in making decisions. There are two main hypotheses about the OFC. The first is that it represents value - the summed costs and benefits of the object/action under consideration. The second is that it represents the context, or the rules of the task, which must be considered when evaluating options during a decision. This summer I worked with a Avinash Vaidya, a postdoc in the Badre lab, to refine a new task that could dissociate context from value using a betting mechanism and which we could use in an fMRI study in the future. While we found that many people were able to learn that the values of bets changed based on the current simulated context that they were in, not everyone was able to do so yet. In the future, we plan to refine the task so that it can be performed consistently in an MRI scanner and we can examine how activity in the OFC changes in response to different contexts and values.
What is your most memorable experience from your training in brain science?
My most memorable experience may have been being trained to work with the MRI scanner. I was a given an explanation of how the machine works and how it is used that helped clarify to me both the great potential and limitations of fMRI research. It made me very excited for the project that I have been working on, and every time I get the chance to help at the scanner, that excitement returns.
What have you learned from this experience that you are applying to other aspects of your Brown degree?
This project gave me an appreciation for several skills and fields (e.g. programming, working memory & statistics) that I want to continue to develop and explore through Brown offered courses. In addition, Lab meetings showed me a model for open and critical discussion that I want to apply to every possible course in the future.
What would you like to do after graduating?
After graduating, I would like to work as a lab manager or research assistant in a field of cognitive neuroscience, such as cognitive control, neuroeconomics, memory and mindfulness, or a related field like artificial intelligence, in order to explore my interests and see more aspects of research. Afterwards, I plan go to graduate school in order to refine which fields I am interested in and move deeper into those fields, and improve my skills as a researcher.