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.

Tools

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.