Lab News

When making decisions, we rely on different kinds of memory. How does the brain decide which to use? New research suggests it depends on uncertainty. Read more about the research here

To celebrate the essential work postdocs do to move science forward, the Zuckerman Institute asked several post-docs to sit down with them and share the big questions they think about. In this video, meet Katie Insel, PhD, discusses her work investigating what makes the brains of adolescents different from those of adults. Check it out here.

You can find the paper here and can read an article by the Zuckerman Institute about the paper here 


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of understanding and managing information seeking behavior. Information-seeking in humans is often viewed as irrational rather than utility maximizing. Here, we hypothesized that this apparent disconnect between utility and information-seeking is due to a latent third variable, motivation. We quantified information-seeking, learning, and COVID-19-related concern (which we used as a proxy for motivation regarding COVID-19 and the changes in circumstance it caused) in a US-based sample (n = 5376) during spring 2020. We found that self-reported levels of COVID-19 concern were associated with directed seeking of COVID-19-related content and better memory for such information. Interestingly, this specific motivational state was also associated with a general enhancement of information-seeking for content unrelated to COVID-19. These effects were associated with commensurate changes to utility expectations and were dissociable from the influence of non-specific anxiety. Thus, motivation both directs and energizes epistemic behavior, linking together utility and curiosity.

What is a neuroscientist who studies adolescents teaching the legal system? Meet Katie Insel, PhD, a postdoctoral research scientist in the Shohamy Lab.

Advancing science takes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Join us for The Science Life, an illustrated series that explores the lived experiences of people working in brain research: the human moments of tragedy and triumph that define what it means to be a scientist and how science is done.

You can read Alice's paper here

And to entice you, here is the abstract:


Decisions about what to eat recruit the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and involve the evaluation of food-related attributes, such as taste and health. These attributes are utilized differently by healthy individuals and patients with disordered eating behavior, but it is unclear whether these attributes are decodable from activity in the OFC in both groups and whether neural representations of these attributes are differentially related to decisions about food. We used fMRI combined with behavioral tasks to investigate the representation of taste and health attributes in the human OFC and the role of these representations in food choices in healthy women and women with anorexia nervosa (AN). We found that subjective ratings of tastiness and healthiness could be decoded from patterns of activity in the OFC in both groups. However, health-related patterns of activity in the OFC were more related to the magnitude of choice preferences among patients with AN than healthy individuals. These findings suggest that maladaptive decision-making in AN is associated with more consideration of health information represented by the OFC during deliberation about what to eat.


An open question about the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is whether it supports the evaluation of food-related attributes during deliberation about what to eat. We found that healthiness and tastiness information were decodable from patterns of neural activity in the OFC in both patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) and healthy controls. Critically, neural representations of health were more strongly related to choices in patients with AN, suggesting that maladaptive over-consideration of healthiness during deliberation about what to eat is related to activity in the OFC. More broadly, these results show that activity in the human OFC is associated with the evaluation of relevant attributes during value-based decision-making. These findings may also guide future research into the development of treatments for AN.

You can read Natalie's paper here... Also check out this great blog post she wrote here...And a great summary of her paper by the Zuckerman Institute.

Columbia University has named Daphna Shohamy and Larry Abbott to lead its Kavli Institute for Brain Science. Daphna has also been appointed to the Kavli Professorship of Brain Science, an endowed professorship reserved especially for a director of Columbia’s Kavli Institute. Read more about the news from the Kavli Institute's announcement here.

Lentils or pasta? Why small decisions feel as tough as big ones in this time of crisis. Check out the article here!

Congratulations to Ellen Tedeschi who successfully defended her dissertation on Friday titled: "Knowledge for the Sake of Knowledge: Understanding the Relationship Between Curiosity, Exploration, and Reward." 

Choosing between two items involves deliberation and comparison of the features of each item and its value. Such decisions take more time when choosing between options of similar value, possibly because these decisions require more evidence, but the mechanisms involved are not clear. We propose that the hippocampus supports deliberation about value, given its well-known role in prospection and relational cognition. We assessed the role of the hippocampus in deliberation in two experiments. First, using fMRI in healthy participants, we found that BOLD activity in the hippocampus increased as a function of deliberation time. Second, we found that patients with hippocampal damage exhibited more stochastic choices and longer reaction times than controls, possibly due to their failure to construct value based on internal evidence during deliberation. Both sets of results were stronger in value-based decisions compared to perceptual decisions.

It’s no secret that the teen brain is unique, and recent research from Daphna Shohamy, a neuroscientist at Columbia's Zuckerman Institute, has confirmed striking differences in the brains of adolescents as compared to adults.

These differences shed light on the biology behind their reward-seeking behavior, and reveal that it actually evolved to help teens navigate the world around them during a pivotal time in their lives.

As millions of teens head back to the classroom, discover what the latest research into the adolescent brain reveals about how teens learn and interact with their environment — and whether this knowledge could help teachers better understand their students.

Congratulations to Dr. Erin Kendall Braun and Dr. Raphael Gerraty for successfully defending your dissertations! 

We received the Templeton Foundation's: Templeton Science of Virtue Award as part of of multi-site center project to study "Understanding How Curiosity Drives Learning."


The lab received a grant from the Klarman Foundation to study "Mechanisms of Decision-making in Anorexia Nervosa: A Computational Psychiatry Approach"

WNET’s "Treasures of New York" aired on Sunday, June 15, an episode that explores the first building to open on Columbia’s new Manhattanville campus, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center.

Our lab is now located at Columbia’s 450,000-square-foot Jerome L. Greene Science Center, home to the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, located on Broadway between 129th and 130th street. 

Read more about our new location at

Congratulations to Akram Bakkour for being awarded the NSF SBE Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (SPRF)! 

Congratulations to Raphael Gerraty for being awarded the National Research Service Award (NRSA) Predoctoral Training Fellowship (F31)!