Cognitive neurostimulation involves harnessing thoughts, or cognition, to drive brain function. As compared to invasive stimulation, such as deep brain stimulation, cognitive neurostimulation aims to drive brain activity through intentional manipulation of thought. In our first use of this technique we demonstrated that neurotypical adults can learn to drive ventral tegmental area activation solely through internally generated thoughts. This is the first demonstration of volitional activation of this region. This holds promise to inform both clinical and basic science questions as dopamine is implicated in multiple disorders including schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, ADHD, and addiction and is critical for motivation, learning, and memory formation.
Eye tracking is a method that allows us to measure attention with high accuracy. Modern eye trackers use cameras and other optical hardware along with computer algorithms to track eye gaze. Our lab uses eye trackers to measure eye gaze and pupil size, which give us information about the psychological processes that allow us to interact with the visual world. Eye tracking offers a powerful way to track and predict individual behavior.
Work in the Adcock lab has focused on targeting motivation, learning, and memory in a variety of clinical populations. To date we have completed studies that recruited patients with depression and schizophrenia. We are currently conducting a study with individuals ADHD and one with nicotine dependence. Insights from our basic science discoveries inform translation of these findings to our clinical work. We hope that informing individuals with a variety of mental illnesses about brain function will improve their clinical outcomes. Some of our research directly addresses this question.
The Adcock lab is interested in better understanding neuromodulatory effects on brain function. One way we have investigated this is by using L-dopa, the precursor to dopamine. By using this drug, we can examine how dopamine contributes to learning and memory formation in humans. Our work using this drug is currently in preparation for submission for publication.
Real-time fMRI Neurofeedback
Real-time fMRI neurofeedback is a technique that continues a long tradition of giving individuals insight to what is happening in their bodies through biofeedback (e.g., heart rate biofeedback). An individual can then use that information – in this case, his or her own brain activity – as a signal that be regulated, or changed to meet a goal. Our lab primarily uses this technique to show individuals in the MRI scanner their brain response as it evolves, providing information that can help them learn or improve a skill (like getting motivated or using cognitive regulation strategies).