Havenith & Schölvinck Lab

How do brains simultaneously encode multiple cognitive processes during natural behaviour?

Research statement

Humans may not be good at multitasking – but their brains are! At any given moment, a neuronal population may be involved in multiple cognitive processes, such as representing the physical properties of objects in the environment, adjusting for fluctuating attention levels, and implementing the physiological long-term changes that underlie learning. Previous research has overwhelmingly focused on studying how each of these cognitive processes affects neuronal activity in isolation. In contrast, we want to find out how neuronal activity represents complementary cognitive processes simultaneously at any given moment. What’s more, we aim to investigate if the solutions to this fundamental challenge of brain computation are evolutionarily preserved, or if they vary across species.

To study these questions, our lab conducts parallel experiments in the two most dominant model species of neuroscience – monkeys and mice. Specifically, we use naturalistic foraging tasks in a virtual environment to examine visually guided decision-making in both species. Simultaneously, we record the activity of large neuronal populations in visual cortical areas that are preserved across mammals. This approach uniquely allows us to obtain moment-by-moment readouts of the multi-faceted behaviour of animals, which we then relate to various aspects of ongoing brain activity using cutting-edge computational tools. In this way, we aim to for the first time explain how the neuronal representations of universal processes like learning and attention jointly unfold in the brain in real time.

Key publications

Havenith MN, Zijderveld PM, van Heukelum S, Abghari S, Glennon JC, Tiesinga P (2019). The Virtual-Environment-Foraging Task enables rapid training and single-trial metrics of rule acquisition and reversal in head-fixed mice. Nature Scientific Reports 9(1), 4790. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-41250-w

Havenith MN, Zijderveld PM, van Heukelum S, Abghari S, Tiesinga P, Glennon JC (2018). The Virtual-Environment-Foraging Task enables rapid training and single-trial metrics of attention in head-fixed mice. Nature Scientific Reports 8(1), 17371. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-34966-8

Schölvinck ML, Saleem AB, Benucci A, Harris KD, Carandini M (2015). Cortical state determines global variability and correlations in visual cortex. J Neurosci 35(1), 170-178. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4994-13.2015

Schölvinck ML, Maier A, Ye FQ, Duyn JH, Leopold DA (2010). Neural basis of global resting-state fMRI activity. PNAS 107(22), 10238-10243.

Havenith MN, Yu S, Biederlack J, Chen NH, Singer W, Nikolić D (2011). Synchrony makes neurons fire in sequence, and stimulus properties determine who is ahead. J Neurosci 31, 8570-85846. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.2817-10.2011

Schölvinck ML, Howarth C, Attwell D (2008). The cortical energy needed for conscious perception. NeuroImage 40(4), 1460-1468.