We aim to improve understanding of neural mechanisms of emotion, motivation, learning and reward. Our topics include the psychology and neurobiology of pleasure and desire, with implications for motivational disorders such as drug addiction and eating disorders.


Our research seeks answers to
fundamental questions:
  • How is pleasure generated in the brain?
  • What are the neural bases of wanting and liking?
  • How are rewards learned?
  • How is learning transformed into incentive motivation?
  • How do brain motivation systems work?
  • What causes addiction?
  • How does the brain distinguish pleasant from unpleasant?
  • How does fear relate to desire?
  • Can an emotion ever be truly unconscious?
  • How are complex streams of real behavior produced by brains?
  • What goes wrong in action disorders (Parkinson's, OCD, or Tourettes' )?

Affective neuroscience & biopsychology of liking & wanting: Pleasure, desire, and reward learning
In our affective neuroscience laboratory we study brain systems of sensory pleasure 'liking' (such as for sweetness) and of incentive salience 'wanting' (a type of desire). Our research has applications to human drug addiction, rational and irrational choices, and conscious and unconscious emotion involved in everyday pleasures and desires.

blue laser rat

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hedonic brain
Action syntax,  executive brain systems, and neuroethology
We also have studied neural command systems that control sequential patterns of words, thoughts, and natural instinctive behaviors. All share brain striatal mechanisms of 'action syntax' involved in normal behavior, OCD and related pathologies of thought and action.