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
Of mice and model organisms
July 31, 2019
An in-depth look at how veterinarians at CSHL help take care of the various organisms that help researchers answer fundamental biological questions.
Watson School 2019 Ph.D.s
May 19, 2019
Seven students were awarded Ph.D. degrees from Watson School this May. Here, they reflect on their time at the Laboratory as they look to the future.
From many mice, unexpected genius
October 31, 2018
Researchers find that some individual mice are smarter than their fellow rodents, which can provide insights into decision-making.
Being a scientist means being part of a team
June 12, 2018
High school senior Jerinna Solages learns what it’s really like to do scientific research in CSHL’s Partners for the Future program.
Portrait of a Neuroscience Powerhouse
April 27, 2018
A relatively small neuroscience group at CSHL is having an outsized impact on a dynamic and highly competitive field
Dr. Anne Churchland honored with Marshall Award for promoting women in science
December 11, 2017
Associate Professor Anne Churchland was honored with The Louise Hanson Marshall Special Recognition Award.
New leadership roles in BRAIN Initiative and International Brain Lab reflect CSHL’s excellence in neuroscience
October 24, 2017
The BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network establishes a Center and a Collaboratory for the Mouse Brain Cell Atlas at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Do neuroscientists need to switch gears to understand how brains make choices?
October 2, 2017
Associate Professor Anne Churchland, co-founder 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
Neuroscientist Matt Kaufman uses brief, ultrafast laser pulses to understand how the brain makes sensory-guided decisions.
If you thought all neuroscientists work with neurons, you’re wrong
February 25, 2016
Neuroscientists talk about the importance of the intersections between theory and experiment, and how it has shaped their work.
In other news
How do brains make decisions? Dr. Churchland tells us why understanding decision-making is important, and outlines common approaches to study it. The video is available on iBiology.org at https://www.ibiology.org/neuroscience/decision-making/
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
CSHL Institutional Repository