How does the brain make decisions to obtain the most important objects from the environment, or rewards. Despite the fundamental importance of rewards for survival, we know very little how the brain recognises them and uses that information for making decisions. Professor Schultz and colleagues study the activity of single reward neurons in the brains of normal humans and animals performing sophisticated behavioural tests derived from psychological learning theories and economic decision theories. Studies mapping the activity of single neurons in animals are currently the focus of President Obama's Brain Initiative.
Reward and decision processes are particularly relevant for disorders such as drug addiction, obesity, attention deficit disorder, and pathological gambling and risk misperception, which cost hundreds of thousands of human lives each year and unimaginable financial loss. Besides understanding the basic mechanisms that has gone wrong in these disorders, a main goal of this work is the mapping of neurons and localisation of their neurotransmitter receptors as targets for drug therapy.
Humans offer only limited possibilities, as studies are mostly restricted to temporal lobe epileptic patients, whereas systematic studies require animals, in particular on monkeys with their advanced behavioural repertoire and relevance for human conditions. These experiments require the full cooperation of the individuals, which is only achieved by providing them with maximal comfort. We also conduct closely related human functional neuroimaging experiments which offer the rare opportunity of translating the animal work to humans and their disorders.