WHY INFORMATION SAMPLING?

Much of the research in neuroscience and psychology has been shaped by two longstanding, but contradictory philosophical traditions. One prominent view holds that our experience is given, and arises merely from the passive registration of the world on our senses.

 

An equally prominent and opposing view holds that our experience is actively constructed, and the architect is selective attention. This idea was compellingly enunciated by William James in The Principles of Psychology:

"Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. [...] My experience is what I agree to attend to."


These two philosophies shape much of the modern neuroscientific research.


A large body of research supports’ James’ belief in the constructive nature of our experience, and demonstrates how sensory representations vary from moment to moment, and from context to context, by virtue of selective attention. 

 

An equally large body of research on learning and decision making, in contrast, relies on the simplifying premise that experience is given. Studies of value-based decisions examine how animals learn the values of a given set of options. Even theories of evidence accumulation portray this accumulation as a passive process, whereby individuals sample from a pre-determined, given source of information.
 

This rift leaves large gaps in our understanding of cognitive mechanisms.

 

In our lab, we ask questions that have been relatively ignored about the neural mechanisms underlying active sampling strategies.

Why, and how, do individuals become interested in specific items?

How do we determine which evidence is relevant to our actions?

What factors motivate and hinder the demand for information?

What are the factors that fuel our curiosity and open-ended search for information? 

We believe that  investigating these questions will fuel a deeper understanding of cognition and decision making, including complex processes of curiosity and creativity.

We use eye movements and visual attention - our primary means for sampling visual information - as model systems for addressing these questions.  We build on the extensive prior work on these systems to understand how these functions are coordinated with cognition, decision making and motivation. 

We use a combination of methods, including single neuron recordings, fMRI imaging, and theoretical modeling. 

Check out our publications, or contact us to learn more.