Gettin’ blobby with it – Chris Madan joins Real Scientists

We’re happy to welcome Chris Madan (@cMadan) to Real Scientists! Chris has a PhD in psychology from the University of Alberta, Canada, and is now a postdoc at the Department of Psychology at Boston College, US. His work is focused on memory and decision making, which you can read more about on his website. We asked Chris the usual set of questions, and you can read his reponses below.

From when I was young, I have been interested in how a ‘blob’ of tissue, the brain, is able to somehow support our personality, our hopes and dreams, and simply, our ability to ‘think’.

Early on, I had described this as being interested in studying the relationship between brain and behavior. During my undergraduate studies, I decided that I wanted to seek out a job where I would actually learn something (having previously worked in a supermarket) and I started contacting researchers at my university to see if I could get a position as a research assistant for the summer. After meeting with a few professors and talking about potential plans to apply for summer research funding, I met with one professor who had started just months before, and was starting to establish his lab. We got along well and I ended up starting right away as a volunteer, later I worked full-time as a research assistant, and later yet I continued to work in his lab as a graduate student. While I had not previously planned to pursue a career in research, I had found that many of aptitudes aligned well with a career in research, and more importantly, I loved it.

What makes some experiences more memorable than others? While most of the literature on human memory has studied the structure and organization of memory, the functional role of memory has been relatively neglected. As memories of prior experiences influence countless other behaviors, I want to work towards a greater understand of how these biases in memory influence other domains of cognition.

I study how useful or salient information, such as those evoke reward, emotion, or motor processing, influences our ability to form memories of the past and make decisions in the future. I ask these questions using a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroimaging, and computational modeling approaches.

Human memory is not a perfect recording of our experiences. Our ability to remember our past experiences is biased, and these biases can manifest in future behaviors, especially decision making. Here are two specific examples: (1) Emotional events themselves are more memorable, but how does this influence our memory for events before/after the emotional event? How do these memory effects occur within the brain? (2) How do reward outcomes influence our decision-making? For instance, given the choice between a guaranteed win of $20 or a 50/50 chance at $40, which would you prefer? Does it matter if these outcomes and odds are explicitly described or learned through experience?

Soon after I moved to Boston, I got involved with a monthly local meet-up group in Boston, called “Neuroscience for Society”. These meetings are open to the general public and most attendees have no formal background in psychology or neuroscience. In these meeting, a researcher/organizer discusses current neuroscience research and their implications to everyday life, and I now give some of these presentations to help people understand some of the amazing things we have learned about human behavior in recent years.

I have been trying to take up running, but am still working on getting into a habit of it. My ideal day off would be to work in a coffee shop with some friends, reading recent papers and writing up some of my recent work.

Please welcome Chris to Real Scientists!

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