Here are some of the questions that my research addresses:
How do our memories of the past affect our choices about the future?
In order to imagine the future in detail, we rely on retrieving memories from our past. So, how important is an intact memory system for making choices about the future? What happens as memory declines with aging? And how do our experiences, ranging from what just happened in the last few minutes to what happened in early childhood, shape our preferences?
How does emotion influence our decisions?
Classic models of emotion, or affect, and decision-making propose that affect leads us to make snap decisions that are not in our long-term best interest. These theories present decision-making as a battle between two systems: our emotional side and our rational side. Decisions might often feel like this, but emotional responses are actually key to helping us pinpoint what is salient, appetitive, and aversive in our environment. Moreover, affect and decision-making are both very complex, so the relationship between them is likely to be far more nuanced than these “two-systems” models suggest. By measuring (e.g., with pupil dilation) and manipulating (e.g., with stress induction) emotion in the lab, we can learn more about how it influences choice.
How and why does decision-making go awry in some psychiatric conditions?
Many psychiatric conditions are marked by maladaptive decision-making (e.g., substance use and other impulsive disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder). How do these behaviors emerge? Can we predict who is susceptible to these disorders? Where do we draw the line between controlled and compulsive behavior? (Is there one?)