Sunday, July 04, 2010

FENS conference, Day 1 & 2

Right now I am in Amsterdam, participating in the FENS conference--the Federation of
European Neuroscience Societies. This is the first time I am actually
going to a conference in my home country! Interestingly, they opened
the conference with a sketch by Freek de Jonge, a famous Dutch
stand-up comedian. Very cool to once see him in real life! (I happened
to be sitting in one of the front rows). The opening was followed by a
lecture by Nobel prize winner Roger Tsien, who spoke about molecules
he developed that could stain particular types of tissues, and he
showed how they could get a tumor to fluoresce in a living mouse and
use that to aid very precise tumor removal. Very impressive!

This morning I gave my poster and had quite a good crowd. I talked
about my efforts to relate the drift diffusion model of decision
making (Ratcliff, 1978) to EEG and fMRI data. We believe that evidence
accumulation is instantiated by brain oscillations, primarily in the
4--9 Hz theta band, which then feeds into the motor cortex, which
actually implements crossing the decision threshold. The latter is
visible in the Lateralized Readiness Potential (LRP). I showed some data
that finds correlations between individual differences in model
parameters and features of the LRP and oscillatory activity. An
interesting talk was given by Franscesco Battaglia, who talked about
theta coherence between the hippocampus (a deep memory structure) and
frontal cortex (mainly associated with executive function). He showed
that this theta coherence is especially strong at points in a maze
where rats have to make decisions. This theta coherence might be
related to dopaminergic influences, which might implement motivational

There was also a fascinating lecture by Prof. Tomasello, who posited
that human culture is defined by not just understanding each others'
intentions (which is called theory of mind), but also sharing
intentions. As opposed to monkeys, e.g., chimps, humans will
collaborate, share information, etc., even if it is not in their own
interest. They will share food, which chimps will never do. Even if a
chimp mother shares food with her child, she only does so when almost
forced by her child. So the really human thing about us seems to be
our altruism!

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