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Science – Stochastic Behavior

What makes us spontaneous? We aim to uncover the neural circuit mechanisms of stochastic behavior.


  • Complex behaviors in head-fixed mice
  • Neurosurgery
  • Multi-site electrophysiology
  • Fiber photometry
  • Optogenetics
  • Computational modeling
  • Computational cognitive science

How do we decide when we can’t know the right answer?

How do we choose when we can’t know the right answer or the right answer might not even exist? The philosopher al¬Ghazali reasoned free will lies in our ability to act under uncertainty, in situations where we can only pick “randomly” at best. Intriguingly, such (effectively) stochastic behavior may be the key to intelligence. Machine learning algorithms depend on stochasticity, and probabilistic cognitive models explain human reasoning in situations where artificial intelligence struggles. What neural mechanisms enable us to behave so spontaneously?

We are answering these questions by dissecting the role of neural circuits disrupted in neurological and psychiatric disease. Drawing on clinical insight and intuition, we train mice to play games that require them to make decisions under uncertainty, do neurosurgeries to record and manipulate neural circuits with optogenetics, and use computational modeling and techniques from computational cognitive science to understand how these circuits give rise to spontaneous behavior.