Projects in Human Neuroscience and Psychology
Supervised by Vikranth Bejjanki

Professor Bejjanki will supervise research projects in human neuroscience and psychology with year-long projects focusing on topics related to those described below. Students can choose from behavioral, computational, developmental or neuroimaging approaches to develop and test their hypotheses. For those interested in a one-semester project, writing a thorough literature review of primary research on an approved topic is appropriate.

Mechanisms underlying human learning

We have an incredible ability to learn from our experiences. For example, we can improve our performance on nearly any task by extracting relevant information from the environment. What are the neural and computational mechanisms that make such learning possible? I have developed a theory that learning allows the brain to better process information relevant to the current task, while eliminating irrelevant noise. I’ve found that this theory accounts for several kinds of learning, and that such improved information processing may be neurally implemented by changing the connectivity between areas of the brain. Research in the lab will be concerned with further examining the extent to which this theory might account for the many kinds of learning that are observed in humans. I am also interested in understanding the relationship between the mechanisms underlying learning, and those underlying processes like attention and adaptation, which also allow the brain to better access relevant information.

Generalized learning with action video games

A large body of research has shown that playing action video games leads to improved performance in tasks and domains that go well beyond the specifics of the games played. What is it about playing action video games that leads to such broad improvements in performance? I have previously found that playing action video games allows gamers to ‘learn to learn’ – i.e., they are able to rapidly figure out the relevant information in any situation that they are faced with. Research in the lab will be concerned with exploring the specific aspects of action video games that contribute to ‘learning to learn’, and with understanding the associated neural mechanisms. I am also interested in understanding how general the benefits of ‘learning to learn’ are. Can we observe them in a variety of behaviors?

Learning in young children

The greatest period of learning during the human lifespan occurs during early development. A key area of interest in the lab will be to study learning in young children, with the specific aim of understanding the influence of changing computational and neural constraints on their behavior. For example, children have much less exposure to the world, and so might be much more interested in exploring the world than in carrying out every task as well as possible. Similarly, because different regions in the brain mature at different times, does the neural basis of learning change as a function of age? Research in the lab will be concerned with comparing the behavior of young children with that of adults, in a number of tasks and domains, and with a particular emphasis on the time-course of their learning.