Georgia Tech Neuro Seminar Series

"The Intrinsic Value of Choice"

Brian Lau, Ph.D.
Brain and Spine Institute
Sorbonne Universities

*To participate virtually, CLICK HERE
*Lunch provided for in-person attendees


Human decisions are frequently explained as the balancing of potential rewards and punishments, such as food or money, or lost time. However, models of decision making frequently fail to accurately predict individual behavior. Humans and animals appear to base decisions on value estimation that is often not clearly linked to extrinsic outcomes. For example, when deciding between opportunities leading to further choices and those that do not, humans and other animals frequently choose to choose, even when doing so has no clear impact on immediate rewards or punishments. Thus, opportunities to choose may be intrinsically motivating, although this has never been experimentally tested against alternative explanations such as cognitive dissonance or exploration. I will present experiments aimed at understanding how choice preference arises, how it relates to learning about immediate rewards as well as the sense of control one has over their choices. There is limited evidence about the mechanisms underlying intrinsic rewards, and it is unclear how deficits in motivation for intrinsic rewards manifest themselves following impairment of brain networks involved in reward processing such as the dopaminergic and cortico-basal ganglia systems. I will also present some of our our recent work examining choice seeking in Parkinson’s disease patients, which provides insight into how intrinsic rewards may interact with general motivational and executive processes to explain behavioral impairments associated with neuropsychiatric disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Brian Lau holds a B.A. in neurobiology from the University of California, Berkeley, (1998) and a Ph.D. in neural science from New York University (2007). He was a Helen Hay Whitney postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University from 2007 to 2012. Since 2012, he leads the Experimental Neurosurgery team at the Paris Brain Institute in Paris, France. He is a laureate of the ATIP–Avenir program for young researchers, and was appointed to the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France in 2013.