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Recent Publications & Preprints

Goal-directed learning in adolescence: neurocognitive development and contextual influences

Adolescence is a time during which we transition to independence, explore new activities and begin pursuit of major life goals. Goal-directed learning, in which we learn to perform actions that enable us to obtain desired outcomes, is central to many of these processes. Currently, our understanding of goal-directed learning in adolescence is itself in a state of transition, with the scientific community grappling with inconsistent results. When we examine metrics of goal-directed learning through the second decade of life, we find that many studies agree there are steady gains in performance in the teenage years, but others report that adolescent goal-directed learning is already adult-like, and some find adolescents can outperform adults. To explain the current variability in results, sophisticated [...]

The interpretation of computational model parameters depends on the context

Reinforcement Learning (RL) models have revolutionized the cognitive and brain sciences, promising to explain behavior from simple conditioning to complex problem solving, to shed light on developmental and individual differences, and to anchor cognitive processes in specific brain mechanisms. However, the RL literature increasingly reveals contradictory results, which might cast doubt on these claims. We hypothesized that many contradictions arise from two commonly-held assumptions about computational model parameters that are actually often invalid: That parameters generalize between contexts (e.g. tasks, models) and that they capture interpretable (i.e. unique, distinctive) neurocognitive processes. To test this, we asked 291 participants aged 8–30 years to complete three learning tasks in one experimental session, and fitted RL models to each. We found that some [...]

The maturation of exploratory behavior in adolescent Mus spicilegus on two photoperiods

Dispersal from the natal site or familial group is a core milestone of adolescent development in many species. A wild species of mouse, Mus spicilegus, presents an exciting model in which to study adolescent development and dispersal because it shows different life history trajectory depending on season of birth. M. spicilegus born in spring and summer on long days (LD) disperse in the first 3 months of life, while M. spicilegus born on shorter autumnal days (SD) delay dispersal through the wintertime. We were interested in using these mice in a laboratory context to compare age-matched mice with differential motivation to disperse. To first test if we could find a proxy for dispersal related behavior in the laboratory environment, we measured open field and novel [...]

Activation, but not inhibition, of the indirect pathway disrupts choice rejection in a freely moving, multiple-choice foraging task

The dorsomedial striatum (DMS) plays a key role in action selection, but less is known about how direct and indirect pathway spiny projection neurons (dSPNs and iSPNs, respectively) contribute to choice rejection in freely moving animals. Here, we use pathway-specific chemogenetic manipulation during a serial choice foraging task to test the role of dSPNs and iSPNs in learned choice rejection. We find that chemogenetic activation, but not inhibition, of iSPNs disrupts rejection of nonrewarded choices, contrary to predictions of a simple “select/suppress” heuristic. Our findings suggest that iSPNs’ role in stopping and freezing does not extend in a simple fashion to choice rejection in an ethological, freely moving context. These data may provide insights critical for the successful design of [...]

Lab News

Dr. Wan Chen Lin

Wan Chen Lin received her Ph.D. in behavioral and systems neuroscience. Congratulations Dr. Lin!