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Anne Churchland

Associate Professor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Anne K. Churchland, a neuroscientist, investigates how brains makes decisions. Her group at Cold Spring Harbor laboratory measures and manipulates neural activity during decision-making behaviors. She uses machine learning algorithms to interpret the neural data and to connect it to the behavior.

Professor Churchland received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco, where she studied how the brain processes moving stimuli and generates movements in response. She then did a postdoctoral fellowship studying decision-making at the University of Washington in the Physiology and Biophysics Department. One of her most influential accomplishments was to demonstrate that the same models that describe behavior and neural activity in very simple decisions can be extended to explain more complex decisions as well. This work was funded by a Pathways to Independence (K99) Award from the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health. In 2010, she became a professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She aimed to build on her training in using quantitative approaches to decision-making, and extend that approach to study decisions in rats and mice. This was controversial since many in the field were skeptical that rodents were capable of the sophisticated computations that characterize human decision-making, such as the optimal combination of multiple pieces of information. By training humans and rodents to make the same decisions, Dr. Churchland was able to see their decision-making abilities side-by-side. This approach revealed remarkably similar decision-making computations even in very different species.

Since joining Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Professor Churchland has been the recipient of awards from the McKnight Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Klingenstein-Simons Foundation, the John Merck Fund, the Chapman Foundation and the Society for Neuroscience.  Her work is funded by the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. In addition to her research, Professor Churchland directs the Undergraduate Research Program in Computational Neuroscience & Bioinformatics at Cold Spring Harbor.