Brain Circuit Mechanisms for Inter-individual Variation in Impulse Control


March 15, 2017 - 1:00pm
Northwest 243/ Lunch at 12:45pm
About the Speaker
Joshua Buckholtz
Speaker Title: 
Associate Professor of Psychology
Speaker Affiliation: 
Harvard Department of Psychology

Every day, each of us is faced with an avalanche of decisions. Do we eat the donuts a student brought into the lab, or do we snack on carrots instead? Do we spend our tax return on an Apple Watch or invest it in our children’s college savings account? Do we pick up a drink or a drug when we’re stressed, or do we hit the gym instead? Making the best decision in each of these scenarios requires that we use internal representations of rules, goals, and context to regulate our behavior. The ability to select actions based on these representations, rather than relying solely on the absolute reward value of external stimuli or on habitual action tendencies, can be called self-control. Greater self-control leads to better academic, social, occupational, and financial outcomes, and is a significant predictor of both physical and psychological well-being. By contrast, self-control failure dysfunction and impairment across the entire spectrum of mental illness. One of the most striking aspects of self-control is how dramatically it varies between individuals. Yet, we know relatively little about the neurobiological mechanisms that produce this variability. Our lab integrates behavioral assessment, multi-modality brain imaging, and brain stimulation in community volunteers and special populations (e.g. incarcerated criminal offenders) to shed light on this question.  In this talk, I will summarize past and recent work in our lab implicating individual variability in the cortical regulation of striatal action value representations as a key determinant of inter-individual variation in self-control and related psychological disorders. In particular, I will emphasize the importance of systems neuroscience approaches for constraining psychological theories of self-control and impulse control disorders.