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Tobias Hauser

University College London

Early Career Research Fellow
Junior Group Leader
Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research &
Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging
University College London
United Kingdom

PhD, Psychology, University of Zurich, 2014

PhD, Neuroscience, ETH Zurich, University of Zurich, 2013
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Research focus
Tobias Hauser works in the fields of developmental neuroscience and computational psychiatry. He wants to understand how the computational mechanisms underlying cognitive functions, such as exploration and decision making, develop, and how they can go awry in patients with mental health problems. He uses mathematical models that allow us to understand the processes underlying cognition, and combines them with neuroimaging, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). By doing so, we can understand how the brain processes information, how cognitive functions develop during childhood and adolescence, and how an impairment of these functions can lead to disorder.

My plans for the fellowship period
In my fellowship project, I want to understand how curiosity develops in the brain. I will thereby investigate how, when and why humans make exploratory decisions. I am particularly interested in teasing apart different forms of exploration, such as goal-directed and random exploration. By combining neuroimaging, pharmacological and developmental studies, I hope to explore the role of specific chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters), and how they contribute to these exploratory decisions. By looking at different forms of exploration during development, I hope to find the developmental trajectories of how exploration develops and whether we can relate these trajectories to specific brain maturation processes. Lastly, I plan to relate the development of curiosity to other factors, such as schooling success or mental wellbeing. This will allow to assess whether curiosity contributes to a productive development and wellbeing, and whether deviations from a normative curiosity development can lead to difficulties at school. This fellowship will thus provide a window into the developing curious brain and help us understand how we can foster curiosity.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?
Curiosity is central in life. We are born with an inherent wonder for the things around us and an urge to understand how the world works. Curiosity is a strong driver for self-guided learning and should therefore be fostered both at school and at home. However, we still know relatively little about how curiosity develops and how kids use different forms of exploration during their development. If we succeed in capturing the development of these different forms of curiosity, then we can shape the school settings so that they optimally foster the inherent curiosity and thus help the pupils to learn with most joy and efficiency. By studying the brain mechanisms that underlie curiosity, we can learn how these processes may go awry, for example in children with mental health issues that often express a lack of curiosity.

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