Animals are faced with many decisions. They must integrate information from a variety of sources – sensory inputs like smell and sound as well as memories and innate impulses – to arrive at a single behavioral output. My laboratory investigates the neural circuits that underlie decision-making.
The study of decision-making provides a window into the family of brain functions that constitute cognition. It intervenes between perception and action and can link one to the other. Although much is known about sensory processing and motor control, much less is known about the circuitry connecting them. Some of the most interesting circuits are those that make it possible to deliberate among different interpretations of sensory information before making a choice about what to do. Anne Churchland’s lab investigates the neural machinery underlying decision-making. Lab members use carefully designed paradigms that encourage experimental subjects to deliberate over incoming sensory evidence before making a decision. Recent results show that rats and humans have a statistically similar decision-making ability. To connect this behavior to its underlying neural circuitry, the researchers measure electrophysiological responses of cortical neurons in rodents as they perform designated tasks. The lab’s current focus is on parietal cortex, which appears to be at the midpoint between sensory processing and motor planning. Churchland and colleagues also use theoretical models of varying complexity to further constrain how observed neural responses might drive behavior. This approach generates insights into sensory processing, motor planning, and complex cognitive function.
2012 Trubatch Career Development Award
Being a scientist means being part of a team
June 12, 2018
LabDish blog Written by Jerinna Solages, Senior at Amityville Memorial High School and Partners for the Future program participant. An avid writer, she penned her first novel, Hinder, before graduating middle school. I was sitting in my 6th-period AP Physics class and the buzzing of my phone briefly removed me from what was happening around...
Portrait of a Neuroscience Powerhouse
April 27, 2018
At noon every Tuesday from September through June, scenes from a revolution in neuroscience are playing out at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Week after week, over 100 scientists cram themselves into a ground-floor meeting room in the Beckman Laboratory. It’s standing-room only as everyone in the Neuroscience Program settles in to hear details of the...
Dr. Anne Churchland honored with Marshall Award for promoting women in science
December 11, 2017
In recognition of her efforts to promote and mentor women in neuroscience, Associate Professor Anne Churchland was honored with The Louise Hanson Marshall Special Recognition Award at the Society for Neuroscience’s 2017 Annual Meeting in November. Each year, the award goes to “an individual who has significantly promoted the professional development of women in neuroscience...
New leadership roles in BRAIN Initiative and International Brain Lab reflect CSHL’s excellence in neuroscience
October 24, 2017
Cold Spring Harbor, NY – The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) yesterday announced multiple grant awards totaling $50 million per year for five years to fund cutting-edge research on the brain. The project, part of the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), establishes a Center and a...
Do neuroscientists need to switch gears to understand how brains make choices?
October 2, 2017
Last month, the announcement of International Brain Laboratory (IBL) made headlines because of its unusual approach to a fundamental mystery of neuroscience: what happens in the brain when it makes a decision? Associate Professor Anne Churchland, who co-founded the IBL along with Professor Tony Zador, explains how it could help solve a problem in neuroscience....
Imaging hundreds of neurons using ultrafast lasers hints at how brains make decisions
March 15, 2016
LabDish blog With the flick of a switch, neuroscientist Matt Kaufman can send out billions of extremely brief laser pulses that will help him understand how brains make decisions. Every time you decide to grab a coffee mug, your brain quickly performs an elaborate string of calculations: it visually recognizes the mug, chooses how you...
If you thought all neuroscientists work with neurons, you’re wrong
February 25, 2016
LabDish blog Neuroscientists who work with real neurons will swap ideas with those who work solely on mathematics at this year’s Cosyne conference. Follow #theoryMatters on Twitter for videos of them explaining why they need to work together. Associate Professor Anne Churchland on why collaboration between neuroscientists who focus on theory and those who conduct...
Swartz Centers Dedication
April 1, 2015
An official recognition of Jerome Swartz for his 25+ years of friendship and generous support of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory neuroscience programs was held on Wednesday, April 1 with the dedication of the Swartz Centers for Theoretical Neuroscience and Neural Mechanisms of Cognition. Jerry, co-founder and former CEO of Symbol Technologies was the 1999 recipient...
When thinking about numbers, people estimate a range rather than a single value
March 30, 2015
Representing numbers as a range of possible values allows people to utilize multiple streams of information, leading to improved decisions Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Whether estimating the number of children on a playground or the number of books on a shelf, humans rely on an innate number sense. While areas of the brain have...
Some neurons can multitask, raising questions about the importance of specialization
November 10, 2014
New findings challenge assumptions about how information is encoded in the brain Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Think about all the things you are doing at this moment. As your eyes scan across the lines of this article, maybe your brain is processing the smell of coffee brewing down the hall and the sound of...
Licata, A. M. and Kaufman, M. T. and Raposo, D. and Ryan, M. B. and Sheppard, J. P. and Churchland, A. K. (2017) Posterior parietal cortex guides visual decisions in rats. J Neurosci, 37(19) pp. 4954-4966.
Raposo, David and Kaufman, Matthew T. and Churchland, Anne K. (2014) A category-free neural population supports evolving demands during decision-making. Nature Neuroscience, 17(12) pp. 1784-1792.
Carandini, M. and Churchland, A. K. (2013) Probing perceptual decisions in rodents. Nature Neuroscience, 16(7) pp. 824-831.
Sheppard, J. P. and Raposo, D. and Churchland, A. K. (2013) Dynamic weighting of multisensory stimuli shapes decision-making in rats and humans. Journal of Vision, 13(6)
Raposo, D. and Sheppard, J. P. and Schrater, P. R. and Churchland, A. K. (2012) Multisensory decision-making in rats and humans. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(11) pp. 3726-35.Additional materials of the author at
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