Welcoming Assistant Professor Meghan Meyer to PBS

Assistant Professor Meghan Meyer joined the PBS Faculty in July, 2017.  She completed her Ph.D. at UCLA and post-doctoral training at Princeton University.  Professor Meyer’s research focuses on integrating social and cognitive neuroscience to understand what drives our ability and need to think about the social world around us.  Using brain imaging and behavioral methods she aims to answer questions such as: How do we juggle multiple social cognitive demands on the fly? How do we learn and consolidate information about the people and groups with whom we interact?  Why do the negative and positive experiences with people from our past seem to linger with us, either by haunting us with pain or consuming us with nostalgia?  For more about Professor Meyer’s research, visit her lab website.

This year, Professor Meyer will be teaching PSYC 23 – Social Psychology in the Winter 2018 term, and a new culminating seminar PSYC 83.07 - The Problem of Other Minds in Spring 2018.

Assistant Professor Kyle Smith is a "Scientist to Watch"

The Scientist magazine featured PBS Assistant Professor Kyle Smith as a "Scientist to Watch" in their November 2017 edition.  Professor Smith joined the faculty at Dartmouth in 2013, and research in his lab focuses on reward response and habit formation.

From The Scientist article:

"When Kyle Smith was a kid, he didn’t like science. “I didn’t do very well” in the subject, he says. As an undergraduate at Indiana University, he initially saw himself going into film or television production, but he says the jump to psychology with a neuroscience bent wasn’t really such a big one. With film, “basically you start out with nothing, come up with an idea, figure out how to get it done, be creative, make it interesting to people. . . . push boundaries, [which] is exactly the same kind of thing I’ve found in science,” Smith says."

Read the full article online.

Learning adjusts to the environment but sub-optimally

Value-based decision making often involves integration of reward outcomes over time, but this becomes considerably more challenging if reward assignments on alternative options are probabilistic and non-stationary. Despite the existence of various models for optimally integrating reward under uncertainty, the underlying neural mechanisms are still unknown. Here we propose that reward-dependent metaplasticity (RDMP) can provide a plausible mechanism for both integration of reward under uncertainty and estimation of uncertainty itself. We show that a model based on RDMP can robustly perform the probabilistic reversal learning task via dynamic adjustment of learning based on reward feedback, while changes in its activity signal unexpected uncertainty. The model predicts time-dependent and choice-specific learning rates that strongly depend on reward history. Key predictions from this model were confirmed with behavioral data from non-human primates. Overall, our results suggest that metaplasticity can provide a neural substrate for adaptive learning and choice under uncertainty.

Study: Teens' View of Fairness Shifts as Brain Develops

September 20, 2017 by Office of Public Affairs

Research links cortical thinning over time to the ability to consider others’ intentions.

When it comes to the concept of fairness, teenagers’ ability to consider the intentions of others appears to be linked to structural changes in the brain, according to a study led by Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Luke Chang.

The research found that cortical thinning of specific areas of the brain from youth into young adulthood corresponded to the transition from an emphasis on equality in all transitions to a more complex consideration of the intentions of others in exchanges. This developmental change in the social brain continued through late adolescence, the researchers said.

Dartmouth Symposium on the Young Mind and Brain

On Tuesday, September 19, 2017, a one-day symposium will bring together leading researchers for talks and discussion on the developing brain and behavior.

The young brain is simultaneously endowed with infinite potential and resiliency, while also extremely vulnerable to physical and emotional insults that can have long-lasting negative consequences. This symposium will highlight cutting-edge neuroscientific research that is being brought to bear on long-standing questions regarding the development of the brain and behavior. Topics will include neural development and plasticity, emotional development during adolescence, and brain mechanisms underlying illnesses such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, and schizophrenia, as well as vulnerability to substance abuse. Each speaker is a world renowned expert in his or her field of research, providing an ideal forum for exposing the audience to the absolute latest findings and current research.

More details available here.

How to Tell if Someone is Really Listening to You

A recent study conducted by the Dartmouth Social Intelligence Laboratory led by principal investigator Associate Professor Thalia Wheatley was featured in an article in the Daily Mail (UK).  As the article describes, "using eye-tracking technology, researchers have found collective pupillary synchrony between speakers and listeners were greatest during emotional peaks of a narrative - and decreased as the story became less engaging."  Read more at the DailyMail.com.

PBS Student Wins Award at Graduate Poster Session

Jin Hyung Cheong from the Chang Lab in PBS was one of five students to receive an award for his poster at the annual Dartmouth Graduate Poster Session.  In all, 57 graduate students shared their work at the session.  Read more about Jin's research and the other poster session winners in the full article at the Dartmouth News site, Graduate Poster Session Celebrates Students' Research.

PBS Students Receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Congratulations to PBS graduate students Nicole DeAngeli and Sarah Herald who both received 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program awards.  Nicole is a PhD candidate in Professor David Bucci's lab and her research focuses on the role of the retrosplenial cortex and postrinal cortex in learning and memory.  Sarah is a PhD candidate in Professor Brad Duchaine's lab and her research focuses on higher-level vision and social perception.  Of the 2,000 NSF Fellowships awards for 2017, three went to Dartmouth students.

Read more about the fellowship program and Nicole and Sarah in the feature by the Dartmouth School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Three Dartmouth Graduate NSF GRFP Recipients.

Why ‘Don’t Even Start’ Doesn’t Work With Teenagers

Researcher David Bucci flips the neural switches to replicate an “adolescent brain.”

January 10, 2017 by Bill Platt
Originally published in the Dartmouth News.

As parents of a teenager can tell you, adolescents don’t always think about risks before they act, whether it is venturing onto thin ice on a dare or spending the weekend watching an entire Star Wars marathon before starting a project that’s due Monday.

For many years psychologists and researchers have observed this behavior and linked it to data showing that the part of the brain that regulates impulsivity—the prefrontal cortex—is not yet fully developed in adolescents, while the deeper reward-seeking part of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, develops more rapidly, leaving teens with less control over impulses.

Now Dartmouth researchers have identified and altered the precise neural circuits that control reward-seeking impulses and risk-assessment controls, effectively flipping the switches to create an “adolescent brain” in adult rats.

Do we have free will?

Professor Thalia Wheatley and Professor Peter Tse tackle this question in an episode of Closer to Truth, a program that airs on many PBS stations.  The episode is one in a series entitled Big Questions in Free Will.  Interviews with Professor Wheatley and Professor Tse highlight their research in this interesting field of study, including a clip of Professor Wheatley performing an experiment involving hypnosis.  The full episode is also available on YouTube.

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