Motor control, motivation and learning
Driving the motor cortex by sensory input
During recent years there has been growing scientific interest in whether sensory stimulation in the absence of movement execution can be used to drive the motor system or memory formation. Many studies have investigated how visual stimulation can be employed in this context (see Alaerts et al. 2009, Alaerts et al. 2010, Zhang et al. 2011 for examples from our group). In comparison, very little is known about the effect of somatosensory training on motor system physiology. In this SNF funded project we are investigating how sensory information activates the motor system and whether motor practice can shape these sensorimotor interactions.
Learning and Memory
Without learning and memory life is merely a series of disconnected fragments. Disorders affecting memory are numerous and often debilitating. We are broadly interested in studying how new memories are encoded, consolidated (Woolley et al. 2014) and subsequently reconsolidated (De Beukelaar et al. 2014), with a focus on applying this knowledge to enhance rehabilitation protocols. Our work includes a range of learning paradigms. Experiments investigating spatial navigation seek to provide convergence between human and animal models of learning and memory (Woolley et al. 2013). Experiments in the motor domain target upper limb fine motor skills with the goal of enhancing learning outcomes. Our research in this field uses several methods including task-related and resting-state fMRI, non-invasive brain stimulation, and a novel muscle-computer interface.
Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you agree to help a friend move apartment? Why do you move at all? Our decisions about the world and how we intend to interact with our environment are largely driven by rewards, i.e. what do I gain by doing this? The study of how reward and motivation influence decision making processes (also called value-based decision making or neuroeconomics) has grown exponentially in the last decade. In the NCM lab there are a number of projects investigating reward processing, including: how the relationship between stimuli and outcomes are encoded in the brain, how we can use rewards to motivate non-preferred actions (i.e. effort from a non-dominant effector), and how a deficit in reward processing could manifest into clinical disorders such as Autism (Apps et al. 2013; Balsters et al. 2015).