Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow

Tobias Hauser

University College London

Research focus
Tobias Hauser is interested in understanding how the brain develops and how this is linked to mental health. He uses neuroimaging, computational modelling, and novel data collection methods (e.g., smartphone apps) to investigate how decision making and learning change throughout childhood and adolescence, how this is linked to brain development, and how these processes can go awry in adolescents with mental health problems.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
In my fellowship, I have investigated how decision-making changes during development, how it is linked to neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), and how this development is associated with individual personality traits, in particular impulsivity. I have thereby focused on the exploration-exploitation dilemma, the problem of whether you want to choose a known, good option, or whether you want to explore a less know potentially better option. We have used a series of behavioural and pharmacological studies to demonstrate that humans use a variety of strategies to solve this dilemma, which are controlled by different brain systems. We also showed that the deployment of these strategies changes over development and is influences by impulsivity traits.

My plans for the future
This work has been fundamental to highlight the importance of development for understanding decision-making and the related brain functions. We are currently examining how such decision-making mechanisms develop using big data, collected via crowd-sources smartphone app games. We encourage everyone to play our Brain Explorer app (www.brainexplorer.net), which allows us to collect data from thousands of users world-wide, and thus gives us an unprecedented insight into the mechanisms underlying decision making development, and how this is linked to cultural differences.