Adaptive decision templates in the human brain


  • Prof Zoe Kourtzi

    University of Cambridge

Project summary

When immersed in a new environment, such as navigating a new city or being surrounded by speakers of an unknown language, we are challenged to make sense of an initially incomprehensible stream of events. At first, it seems like a befuddling cacophony that leaves us completely unprepared for what will happen next. And yet, quite rapidly, the brain finds structure and meaning in the incoming signals, helping us to predict and prepare ourselves for future actions. We have little understanding of how the brain achieves this.

I propose to study participants’ ability to learn different types of structure, such as regular patterns in clutter or sequences. Using sophisticated algorithms, we will track participants’ ability to extract structure during training. Our goal is to test how these changes in behaviour relate to underlying brain changes. We will use brain imaging to provide complementary evidence for the brain mechanisms that support structure learning. We will test how different brain circuits specialise to support learning of spatial vs. temporal structures and interact to support our ability to generalise knowledge about structure to new contexts.

Harnessing the brain’s capacity to extract structure during training  has potential implications for boosting lifelong training.