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Research Bernoulli Institute Research

Neural and behavioral dynamics of decision making

Photo: Gerard Kingma
Photo: Gerard Kingma

Key words: visual recognition memory, computational modeling, human electrophysiology, neuroimaging, behavioral studies, mindfulness, distraction, mind-wandering, perceptual decision making, brain oscillations, electrocorticography

humanities, e-humanities, neuroscience, cognitive science, cognitive modeling

Short description:

How do we decide to do what we do? And how are these decisions determined by what happened before and just after the decision? How can we train our mind to make better decisions? These are the questions that guide our research.

Societal relevance:

These questions have implications for many of the mental problems that our society copes with. For example, they allow us to examine why we take impulsive decisions to overeat in the context of emotional stress, or why we are unable to make any decision and take any action when depressed. Once these mechanisms are better understood, we may be able to use this knowledge in the development of interventions, such as mental training through mindfulness.

Research program:

How do thought processes occurring between decisions affect these decisions?
Most studies to date ignore what happens between the trials. Yet, it is easy to imagine that such processes can have tremendous influences, for instance when rumination occurs between trials. Such effects of continuous cognition remain under-explored. I have developed methods to experimentally capture such ruminative tendency by measuring the tendency to persist in recalling trains of memories of the same valence (van Vugt et al., 2012}. We further use experimental measures of mind-wandering to assess these effects (collaboration with Heleen Slagter and Jonathan Smallwood), Crucially, we are developing an explicit computational cognitive model of mind-wandering, implemented in the ACT-R cognitive architecture.

How are decisions affected by contextual factors?
Another important question is assessing how decisions are affected by the context in which a person finds herself. To address these questions, we use a rich multi-modal approach that includes scalp EEG, intracranial EEG, behavioral studies, and model-based neuroscience. We have previously shown that the dynamics of decisions can be captured by theta oscillations (van Vugt et al., 2012; Beulen et al., in preparation). In a recent experiment, I showed that the environment in which a participant performs a very simple decision task affects measurable decision parameters. A follow-up question is whether mental context (e.g., mood) affects decisions in a similar way.

What are the neural correlates of transfer of information that affects decisions?
While there is a sizable literature on the neural correlates of evidence accumulation in both EEG (van Vugt et al., 2011; 2012) and fMRI (e.g., Heekeren et al., 2006; van Vugt et al., in preparation), these studies focused on the dynamics of the decision itself. As soon as you start to take context into account, you need to pay attention to how different brain regions interact. My model-based EEG analysis (van Vugt, 2013) builds the foundation for interpreting interactions between brain regions. I have also started exploring patterns of synchronization during the formation of a decision.

How ”stickiness” of between-trial thinking reduced? And what consequences does that have for health and well-being?
An important candidate for reducing mental stickiness is mindfulness practice (Desbordes et al., 2013, van Vugt et al., 2012). I do both experimental and theoretical studies in understanding how mindfulness affects cognition. The most important and novel project in this respect is building an ACT-R model of meditation. This builds on my pioneering work of using cognitive models to describe in detail what cognitive mechanisms are affected by mindfulness practice (van Vugt & Jha, 2011).

Group leader: Marieke van Vugt
Participating researchers: 2
Research programme:
Cognitive Modelling
Research institute: Bernoulli Institute

Faculty: Faculty of Science and Engineering

Graduate school: Graduate School of Science and Engineering (GSSE)
, Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences (BCN)

Patrick Simen - Oberlin College
Michael Kahana - University of Pennsylvania
Heleen Slagter - University of Amsterdam
Adele Diederich - Jacobs University Bremen
Jean-Philippe Lachaux – CNRS Lyon
Andreas Schulze-Bonhage - University Clinic Freiburg
Antoine Lutz – CNRS Lyon
Jonathan Smallwood – University of York
Rama Chakravarthi – University of Aberdeen
David Creswell – Virginia Commonwealth University

Memory and decision making lab

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Laatst gewijzigd:06 juni 2018 12:07