Robert Wilson

Robert Wilson's picture
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Associate Professor, Cognition/Neural Systems
Director, Neuroscience of Reinforcement Learning Lab


(520) 626-8597
Psychology 416
Research Interests: 
  • What drives us to explore?  The neural basis of curiosity.
  • Why do we make mistakes?  The role of randomness in learning and decision making.
  • Can we model the mind?  Theoretical and computational modeling of cognition.

Research in my lab mixes theoretical and computational modeling, psychophysics, pupillometry, EEG and fMRI to probe the neuroscience of learning and decision making in humans.  Of particular interest is how we decide between exploring for information and exploiting what we already know.  For example, when dining at a favorite restaurant, do you explore and try a new item on the menu, or do you exploit and get the same dish as always?  In recent work we have shown that humans use two distinct strategies for solving this “explore-exploit dilemma”: a directed strategy in which exploration is driven by information seeking, and a random strategy in which exploration is driven by chance through decision noise.  Ongoing work in the lab is investigating the neural bases of these two strategies and how they change in mental illness and across the lifespan.

Selected Publications: 

Wilson, R. C., & Niv, Y. (2015). Is model fitting necessary for model-based fMRI? PLoS Computational Biology, 11(6): e1004237. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004237

Wilson, R. C., Geana, A., White, J. M., Ludvig, E. A., & Cohen, J. D. (2014). Humans use directed and random exploration to solve the explore-exploit dilemma. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(6), 2074-2081. doi:10.1037/a0038199

Wilson, R. C., Takahashi, Y. K., Schoenbaum, G., & Niv, Y. (2014). Orbitofrontal cortex as a cognitive map of task space. Neuron, 81(2), 267-279

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