Anne Kathryn Churchland

Professor, Neurobiology, University of California Los Angeles

Understanding how brains makes decisions is critical for gaining insight into complex cognition. When making decisions, humans and animals can flexibly integrate multiple sources of information before committing to action. The ability to flexibly use incoming information distinguishes decisions from reflexes, offering a tractable entry point into more complex cognitive processes defined by flexibility, such as abstract thinking, reasoning and problem solving. In my laboratory, we investigate the neural circuits underlying decision-making. We measure and manipulate neurons in cortical and subcortical areas while animals make decisions about sensory signals. To connect the neural responses with behavior, we use mathematical analyses aimed at understanding what information is represented at the level of neural populations, both at a given moment and over time. Understanding neural population activity will bolster our long term goal: to determine how the brain can make decisions that integrate inputs from our multiple senses, stored memories and innate impulses.


The Churchland laboratory aims to uncover the computations implemented by neural circuits to support decision-making. We develop sophisticated decision-making paradigms for rodents and humans, measure neural activity in rodents, and develop analysis and modeling tools to connect the two. We have demonstrated that rodents, like humans, can integrate sensory signals in a Bayes-optimal manner to guide decisions. To understand the neural mechanisms supporting this ability, we use multiple cutting-edge methods to measure and manipulate neural areas and pathways with precision.