Amy Christensen, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Adam Kepecs’ lab, has received a three-year fellowship from the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation. An electrical engineer and neuroscientist by training, Christensen studies the neural circuitry responsible for decision-making. Her research seeks to answer the question of how the brain incorporates uncertainty about the surrounding environment into the confidence behind a decision.
The Kepecs Lab has pioneered the neurobiological study of confidence, which was previously considered a meta-cognitive phenomenon unique to humans. Kepecs, the Robert J. Terry Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, revealed that computations of confidence could be statistically described in humans and even quantified in other animals, such as rodents. He developed a method for investigating confidence in rats and identified that the brain region known as the orbitofrontal cortex is responsible for determining confidence in decision-making.
Christensen will extend this work to clarify how the orbitofrontal cortex arrives at its confidence representation and how it feeds that into subsequent behavioral decisions. Her studies will examine this in the context of sensory uncertainty, when an animal is presented with a novel sound or visual scene and has to incorporate that into its decision-making process to receive a reward.
The results of this research can help lay the foundation for understanding why confidence—independent of decision-making—can be dysregulated in certain psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.
Learn more about Dr. Christensen’s research on how psychedelics’ influence on behavior.