The brain's arguably most challenging task is to orchestrate behavior in the face of dynamically changing environments. My main research interests are the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying such adaptive learning processes. To that end, I subject experimental animals to a range of perceptual decision-making tasks. These tasks require the simultaneous consideration of several sources of information, such as sensory evidence for a hypothesis about the state of the world, and the probability of receiving reinforcement when committing to a certain response option. While animals struggle to harvest the maximum number of reinforcers possible, I am recording extracellular spiking activity in associative forebrain areas to elucidate the hidden variables which enable animals to adjust rapidly (and frequently optimally) in a world full of uncertainty.
Key techniques: Operant conditioning of animal subjects, extracellular single-neuron recordings in head-fixed and freely moving animals, juxtacellular recording and nanostimulation, modeling
Research system/organism: Rat
- Stüttgen MC, Rüter J, Schwarz C (2006) Two psychophysical channels of whisker deflection in rats align with two neuronal classes of primary afferents. Journal of Neuroscience 26: 7933.
- Stüttgen MC, Schwarz C (2008) Psychophysical and neurometric detection performance under stimulus uncertainty. Nature Neuroscience 11: 1091.
- Stüttgen MC, Schwarz C (2010) Integration of vibrotactile signals for whisker-related perception in rats is governed by short time constants: comparison of neurometric and psychometric detection performance. Journal of Neuroscience 30: 2060.
- Stüttgen MC, Schwarz C, Jäkel F (2011) Mapping spikes to sensations. Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience 5: 125.
- Stüttgen MC, Kasties N, Lengersdorf D, Starosta S, Güntürkün O, Jäkel F (2013) Suboptimal criterion setting in a perceptual choice task with asymmetric reinforcement. Behavioural Processes 96: 59.