Emily Cross (University of Glasgow / Macquarie University Sydney)
“Towards a cognitive science of human—machine interactions”
Emily Cross’ core interest is how we perceive and behave in social interactions. This is however not limited to social interactions among humans, she is also exploring interactions between humans and robots! She wants to understand how the human brain processes and responds to interactive robots, so humanity can be optimally prepared for an area that will without doubt become highly relevant in the future. Her broad range of research interests also includes dance as a way to explore complex action cognition, learning by observation and the neural foundations of art appreciation/neuroaesthetics.
Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy (Northwestern University)
“Dopamine system dynamics and plasticity in aversive learning”
Yevgenia (Genia) Kozorovitskyi wants to expand the understanding of neuromodulation and plasticity in the brain. Her interests range from the influence of neurohypophyseal peptides, over neuromodulation of adult synaptogenesis, to reconfiguration of the neural proteome. She hopes her research will facilitate the development of new therapeutic applications, exploiting the power of neuromodulators to functionally reconfigure, and even rewire, neural circuits.
Nelson Totah (Helsinki Institute of Life Science)
“How the brain learns in a complex world”
Nelson Totah’s laboratory records and manipulates neural circuits involved in organisms’ ability to adapt to an unpredictable environment. In this talk, he will present data collected from a head-fixed rat-on-a-treadmill apparatus, which enables high resolution monitoring of behavioral responses (treadmill running) and complex cognitive tasks (e.g., auditory-visual attentional set-shifting). he will first show individual-specific strategies employed by rats while they learn to respond to compound auditory-visual stimuli by focusing attention onto a single sensory modality. Using pupillometry and ‘brain-wide’ (32-electrode) EEG recordings, he will show data supporting neuromodulation-triggered cortical network resetting in relation to changing learning strategies. He will also briefly detail his efforts to characterize ensemble activity in the brainstem noradrenergic nucleus, locus coeruleus, and how such activity relates to the control of brain states. In the second part of the talk, he will demonstrate a novel ‘near-mistake’ behavioral paradigm in rats. We all know what it feels like to stop ourselves just before we commit a mistake. What happens in the brain during this cognitive process? To investigate this in rats, Totah’s lab trained them to run when they see a ‘Go’ stimulus and remain immobile when they see a different ‘NoGo’ stimulus. A near-mistakes occurs when the rat initiates an incorrect running response to the NoGo stimulus, but quickly realizes their mistake and stops ongoing movement before crossing a response threshold (treadmill running distance). They demonstrate that anterior cingulate cortex firing rate and dimensionality-reduced population activity signal the magnitude of ‘conflict’ between competing Go and Stop actions by scaling firing rate with near-mistake movement size. He will place this result in the context of how the brain detects mistakes, monitors self-performance, and uses that signal to learn, adapt, and improve future behavior. Finally, he will touch upon a new direction of work studying how subjective perception of visual illusions modulates pupil size in rats.
Dr. Nelson Totah earned his PhD in 2012 at the University of Pittsburgh (USA), where he worked with Prof. Bita Moghaddam to perform the first single neuron recordings during a widely used attention task for freely moving rats. His work covered interactions between frontal cortex neurons and dopamine neuron activity during preparatory attention to an upcoming stimulus. Dr. Totah was a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (Tuebingen, Germany) in the laboratory of Dr. Oxana Eschenko where he established the first large-scale recordings of many locus coeruleus (LC) brainstem neurons simultaneously in any animal. His work demonstrated that, in contrast to the long-held belief that LC neurons respond synchronously, LC population activity is decorrelated. Nelson is also a leader in science education and is the Founder and Vice Chairman of the Houston-based Science National Honor Society, a non-profit organization involving over 1,800 high schools in all 50 states, plus DC, Puerto Rico, and American schools around the world.