A striking range of mental disorders, from OCD to schizophrenia, is accompanied by aberrant decision-making and also by dysfunction in the dopamine system and its targets in the forebrain. Although celebrated computational work posits roles for this system together with the posterior parietal cortex in learning and decision-making for simple choice problems, it requires a tremendous leap of faith to imagine how these simple computational mechanisms can be """"""""scaled up"""""""" from the laboratory to address real-world human behavior of the sort that is clinically problematic for patients with these disorders. One understudied aspect of this problem is the high dimensionality of the space of candidate actions, notably the involvement of multiple effectors such as hands and eyes. This project proposes a theoretical framework for more realistic learning and decision problems involving multiple effectors, and leverages it in experiments probing how the brain copes with learning and decision-making in these cases. The core idea is that the brain should divide-and-conquer: treating, e.g., hand and eye movements independently to simplify learning when their consequences are independent, but that it must evaluate actions jointly across effectors when this is not the case. Learning tasks manipulating this independence are used to: (1) test whether humans and animals learn to solve decision problems by separating or coordinating effector choices to efficiently harvest rewards;these tasks are combined with electrophysiological recordings and fMRI to (2) test whether separate or conjoint neural value maps are maintained for action values across effectors, as appropriate to the problem;and multiarea recordings are used to (3) test whether coordinated choices increase neural interactions between effector-specific motor maps. The work makes innovative use of computational theory for experimental design and analysis, in order to connect experimental observations across species, measurement types (spiking, local field potentials, fMRI), and scales (neuronal, systems). It also introduces a new laboratory microcosm for the computations needed to scale up existing decision theories toward clinically relevant real-world behaviors. In principle, quantitative theories of the brain's decision and learning systems hold important promise for the numerous serious mental illnesses that center around these systems, such as improved procedures for diagnosis or screening candidate treatments. This project aims to """"""""scale up"""""""" such theories -- which are, in practice, too simple to deliver on this promise -- toward explaining the interacting neural circuits that control realistic behaviors more like those that are problematic for patients with mental illnesses.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-IFCN-B (50))
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Glanzman, Dennis L
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New York University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
New York
United States
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