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The Neurobiology of Decision Making
Michael N Shadlen

Mon Dec 08 01:00 PM -- 03:00 PM (PST) @ Regency D
Event URL: http://www.shadlen.org/~mike/NIPS2008/ »

This tutorial lecture describes recent advances in our understanding of how simple decisions are implemented in the brain. The study of decision-making opens a window on the neural basis of many other higher cognitive capacities which also use information in a contingent fashion and in a flexible time frame — free from the immediacy of sensory events or the need to control a body in real time. I will attempt to connect the findings from neural recording and microstimulation experiments to the broader computational problem of inference on data streams. The neurobiology inspires us to reformulate many inference/reasoning problems with explicit incorporation of stopping rules and an interplay between time and probability. These insights were anticipated by Alan Turing in his code-breaking work during World War II, and they were developed by Abraham Wald into the field of Sequential Analysis. Besides its mathematical elegance and strategic importance, this computational mechanism may be essential for higher brain function. If so, the principles revealed by the study of decision-making may one day lead to new treatments for neurological disorders affecting our most cherished cognitive abilities.

Author Information

Michael N Shadlen (Columbia University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute)

Michael Shadlen MD, PhD is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Professor of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of Washington, where is also an adjunct Professor of Neurology. He performed undergraduate and medical studies at Brown University and obtained a PhD from UC Berkeley in visual neuroscience under the guidance of Ralph D. Freeman. He received postgraduate clinical training in Neurology at Stanford Medical Center. He then returned to basic neuroscience as a fellow in the laboratory of William T. Newsome, where he began to work on the neurobiology of decision-making. Shadlen studies neurons in the association cortex that process information from the visual cortex to give rise to interpretations, decisions, and plans for behavior. His experiments combine electrophysiology and behavioral and computational methods to advance our knowledge of higher brain function.

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