Course Description

Course Name

Psychology 4H Single: Neuroscience of Decision Making

Session: VGSS3120

Hours & Credits

10 Scotcat Credits

Prerequisites & Language Level


Short Description

This course provides an introduction to the neuroscience of decision making in the human and non-human primate brains. In particular it provides an overview of the brain networks as well as the mechanistic details of how perceptual and reward-based decisions are implemented in the brain.


1 hour written examination
Main Assessment In: April/May

Course Aims

This course provides an introduction to the neuroscience of decision making, in particular the neural principles underlying perceptual as well as reward- and value-based decisions. Perceptual decisions involve choices based on ambiguous sensory evidence whereas reward- and value-based decisions hinge largely on probabilistic evidence and subjective preferences associated with potential choices. In addition, the role of training in perceptual decision making and the influence of reinforcement-learning in reward-based choices are discussed in the context of optimising decision-related processing. Important methodological considerations on how the relevant neural data are collected and analysed, including some computational modelling work, are also explored. The course draws mostly on recent research reports from both the human and non-human primate literature to illustrate the brain networks and the fundamental principles underlying decision-related processing and their relevance to interpreting neurophysiological and neuroimaging experiments and to understanding brain function in health and disease.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:
- distinguish between different forms of decision making problems (e.g. perceptual vs reward-based decisions) and in different domains (e.g. visual, auditory, somatosensory)
- identify the brain networks involved in early encoding of the evidence associated with different decision alternatives and identify the brain networks and the mechanistic details of how evidence associated with different alternatives is combined to form a decision
- review the latest literature on decision making and interrogate new proposals on the neurophysiological basis of human and non-human primate decision making
- describe the main principles of sequential sampling models of decision making
- illustrate the importance of signal detection theory in decision neuroscience
- describe the main principles of traditional reinforcement learning mechanisms in reward-based decision making and their neural correlates
- explain the computational and mechanistic details of speed/accuracy trade-off in perceptual decision making
- describe how basic decision making is affected in populations with brain trauma or disease
- design simple behavioural paradigms to probe the behavioural and neural correlates of decision making and recognise how interventional techniques (TMS, electrical stimulation, brain lesions) are used to establish causal relationships in neural networks
- describe the influence of important decision modulators (e.g. advice, risk, time, genes, etc) on behavioural choice
- distinguish different analytical approaches for data analysis and different human neuroimaging techniques for data acquisition and appraise their (dis-) advantages
- explain how activity from small groups of neurons manifests itself at the level of macroscopic activity recorded using neuroimaging
- explain the reasons for performing single trial analysis of neural data and why this is helpful for understanding brain function

*Course content subject to change