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Examining the Influence of Curiosity on Expectation

Motivation can take many forms, and in this study, we investigate curiosity as a more intrinsic form of motivation. In addition to being motivating, curiosity parallels reward in many ways. Like reward, it facilities memory encoding success and activates mesolimbic dopaminergic circuitry in the brain. We are investigating this question using a trivia-based fMRI task, where trivia questions of varying levels of interest are used to manipulate and evoke curiosity. In particular, we are investigating how a motivational state such as curiosity, gets carried through time to influence downstream learning and memory.  

Investigating Motivation During Naturalistic Exploration

Volitional exploration and learning are key to adaptive behavior, and exploration has been posited as a mechanism by which motivation promotes memory. However, this relationship is not well-understood and remains a complex problem for cognitive neuroscience. Here we investigate the interaction between motivation and more naturalistic exploration in a real-life complex environment. Subjects explore an art exhibit with affectively rich, environmentally-themed content, for which we manipulate motivation via an introductory statement framing the environmental exhibit in terms of Promotion- or Prevention-oriented goals.  

Investigating the Feasibility of Portable EEG Headsets for Neurofeedback

We are exploring use of portable EEG headsets for delivery of neurofeedback. If successful, this would be very useful for addressing a variety of basic science and clinical questions. 

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder affecting millions of children, adolescents, and adults. Motivational deficits are often implicated in the conceptualization of the disorder and clinically, lack of motivation is a frequent complaint. Nonetheless, there is a disconnect between experimental approaches -- where motivation is manipulated using external incentives (e.g., money) -- and clinical presentation, where deficits in ADHD are most evident under conditions without external or immediate reward. This ongoing project examines whether self-generated, intrinsic motivational states learned through real-time neurofeedback from the dopaminergic midbrain can bridge this gap and whether this self-activation offers a novel, safe, and reliable non-pharmacological treatment option for ADHD. 


Motivational deficits in ADHD significantly impact both quality of life and the potential efficacy of therapeutic intervention, since motivation is critical for successful learned behavior change. By combining computational approaches with a non-invasive, real-time fMRI neurofeedback intervention ('cognitive neurostimulation'), we can model how self-activation of motivational neural circuitry impacts reinforcement learning and also test whether attention-motivation interactions predict intervention response. 

Modeling how motivation circuits learn from neurofeedback 

Our lab recently demonstrated that, with minimal instruction and only one real-time fMRI neurofeedback session, individuals are able to use their own motivational imagery to volitionally and sustainably self-activate mesolimbic circuits. While there is strong evidence that individuals are able to learn this skill, it is not yet known what they learn or how they learn it. We are currently employing large-scale, data-analytic techniques to answer these questions and model neurofeedback-mediated learning in motivational circuits. 

Using MRI Neurofeedback to Understand Reward Processing in Addiction

 The purpose of this project is to determine if individuals with smoking dependence can learn to upregulate midbrain activation in response to personalized, non-drug rewards using rt-fMRI. Rather than asking participants to learn to down-regulate reward responses or craving to drug cues, we are taking a novel approach of determining if they can learn to up-regulate reward responses to non-drug cues. By approaching this question in this way we hope to gain new insights into the neurobiology of addiction.   

Using Single Session MRI Neurofeedback as Tool for Psychotherapy

 The purpose of this project was to provide individuals with depression with a demonstration of how using strategies learned in therapy change the brain. Two challenges of cognitive behavioral therapy (and similar cognitive therapies) are a lack of 1) immediate feedback of therapy efficacy and 2) biological evidence of therapy efficacy. We aimed to give individuals with depression immediate, biological evidence of therapy efficacy. Specifically we showed participants how brain activity within the cingulate cortex changes following 1) recalling a sad memory or worry and 2) using a strategy learned in CBT. Initial results suggest that providing people with this type of immediate, biological feedback is highly motivating and rewarding. Interestingly, neurofeedback quality correlated with self-reported strategy efficacy and frequency of strategy use one month following the fMRI session.

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