We study different kinds of learning and how the different ways we learn influence memory, decision making, cognitive control, and other goal-directed behavior in children, adolescents, and adults. We are particularly interested in adolescence as an important developmental period when children gain increased independence to learn and make decisions. We aim to characterize adolescents’ unique capacity to flexibly learn from their experiences and use this information to navigate new situations. We investigate how the developing brain promotes flexible learning from the range of new experiences and challenges that emerge throughout development.

Our work focuses on three central questions:

How does the developing brain support learning and decision-making in adolescence?

Multiple systems in the brain support distinct kinds of learning. We are interested in how these different brain systems interact across development to help children and adolescents learn from their experiences.

How do different kinds of learning influence memory?

Across development, children and adolescents face many new experiences. While learning from these experiences, they must remember information that will be most useful for their future success. We want to understand the factors, such as rewards and social feedback, that shape what children and adolescents tend to remember during learning.

How are memories used to guide decision making?

As children grow up and transition into adolescence, they are increasingly challenged to make more self-guided decisions. We are interested in how children and adolescents use memories from different learning experiences to help them make decisions in new situations.


We use several tools to answer our questions. We create learning, memory, and decision-making games to investigate these behaviors. We also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to help see what is happening in the brain during these games. We use computational modeling to analyze what aspects of learning influences memory and decision-making. These tools guide our inferences about cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie the behaviors we see in the lab.

Research Assistant Projects

Emotional Memory and Development, by Carlie Orr

I am an undergraduate student studying Psychology with minors in Behavioral Neuroscience and Spanish. In the past, I have done volunteer work for the LBDL, but currently I am working on a Directed Study. For this credit, I have been assisting with the DemoMemo project, a study researching emotions’ effect on memory in adolescents. Specifically, I have been doing research on similar studies and creating data for each trial, learning PsychoPy, and becoming extremely comfortable using Excel.

The Neuroscience of Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer, by Kai Doran

As an AJC Merit Research Scholar, I am working in Dr Davidow’s Learning and Brain Development Lab, studying the neuroscience of Pavlovian-Instrumental Transfer (PIT). Basic learning mechanisms, such as PIT, are oftentimes indicated in clinical mental health conditions such as addiction and depression, but aren’t fully characterized in adolescents, particularly in the realm of neuroimaging. Using computational modeling and fMRI in the study, my study aims to better understand the neural processes involved in the PIT paradigm, and to build on existing literature about reward and motivation circuitry in the adolescent brain.

Value-Motivated Memory and Decision-Making Across Adolescence, by Maddy Hammell

As an undergraduate research assistant and recipient of the PEAK Base Camp Award, I assist in recruiting efforts and aid research across the lab. The specific project I’m currently working on focuses on memory and decision making in adolescents, and how reward plays a role in what memories are called upon in decision making.

Effect of music exposure on decision making in times of acute stress, by Rishi Kudaravalli

My work with Dr Juliet Davidow and Nick Kathios pertains to music exposure as a way to increase optimal behavior in a serial decision-making task. Stress is known to detrimentally impact decision-making, so our research focuses on the intersection between stress and music to increase performance. Additionally, we hypothesize that music from childhood and music from adolescents may affect participants differently.

Socially Based Decision-Making, by Oreoluwa Afolabi

I’m an undergraduate research assistant working in the Learning and Development Lab. I am currently focusing on a task that attempts to understand the onset of social-based decision-making and the socialization of neutral stimuli in adolescents. We hypothesize that adolescents show increased social interpretation and social-based decision-making as they develop from childhood