Decisions do not always involve rewards or outcomes that are black and white. In fact, when an outcome is deemed as rewarding or “worth it,” the adaptive organism takes a wide variety of environmental factors into consideration. For example, deciding between a goal that involves a lot of work versus a goal that involves no work OR deciding between an immediately-available reward versus a delayed one—these characteristics are more akin to the kinds of decisions we are required to make on a daily basis. Research in LCN seeks to understand what brain mechanisms (and in under what conditions such mechanisms) are involved in responding adaptively. We use a variety of biobehavioral techniques to address this question.
The effects of drugs of abuse on flexible behavior
Since abuse of drugs (such as psychostimulants) affect brain circuitry that is recruited in flexible behavior, one of our lab goals is to find out what changes in the brain contribute to the compulsive, “automatized” behavior in drug addiction. Changes in the neuromodulation of candidate areas like the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, striatum and thalamus are a focus. Administration models combined with automated and manual behavioral techniques are used to explore this topic in LCN.
Dr. John Marshall (UCI)
Dr. Mimi Belcher (UCI-UCSB)