General Research Interests

I am interested in understanding the cognitive, computational, and neural basis of rational decision-making and emotional processing in humans, and more recently, the interaction between the two. My primary methodologies include brain imaging (fMRI & PET), patient studies, and computational modelling. I also take an active interest in the philosophical/foundational issues that beset cognitive science.

Program of Research

Understanding the Role of the Prefrontal Cortex in Rational & Emotional Processing

In a series of projects my lab is investigating the role of prefrontal cortex in both cognitive and affective processing with behavioural studies of neurological patients and fMRI studies of normal volunteers. In terms of cognitive processing, I am interested in the differential roles of right and left prefrontal cortex in reasoning and problem solving. Our working hypothesis (H1) is that the right prefrontal cortex is preferentially involved in the incoherent, conflicting, nonconceptual aspects of problem solving and reasoning, while the left hemisphere is critical for knowledge-rich, conceptually coherent aspects of problem solving and reasoning. In terms of emotional processing, I am interested in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and its interaction with dorsolateral regions. Our working hypothesis (H2) is that, whereas emotionally-laden or “hot” reasoning requires activation of VMPFC and (relative) deactivation of of lateral/dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (L/DLPFC), neutral or “cold” reasoning requires activation of L/DLPFC and (relative) deactivation of VMPFC. If the VMPFC fails to be inhibited during decision-making, logical/rational responses may be overwhelmed by emotional responses. In general terms, our research is part of the ongoing effort to improve our understanding of the prefrontal cortex by examining the function and interactions of subcomponents.

The research program is comprised of three funded projects. Two projects, Fractionating the Rational Brain and The Differential Roles of the Prefrontal Cortex in Real-World Problem Solving, are directed at the first hypothesis. The third project, Neural Basis of Emotion-Reason Interactions, is directed at hypothesis 2. All three projects involve fMRI studies of normal subjects and behavioural studies of neurological patients with focal lesions.


Nov. 10, 2003