Yael Niv, "Focus versus breadth: The effects of neural gain on information processing and decision making"
Neural gain, thought to be modulated by the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system, can be thought of as a contrast control mechanism -- when gain is high, the contrast between weakly and strongly activated neurons is increased. What does this have to do with information processing and economic decision making? In this talk, I will present evidence that suggests that the human brain fluctuates between global, brain-wide high-gain states in which processing is focused on the strongest stimuli, and low-gain states that allow more integration throughout the brain. I will then discuss three sets of experiments that investigate the behavioral effects of these fluctuating gain states. In the first experiment, we show that pupillary and neuroimaging indices of high gain are associated with stronger influence of individual predispositions on trial-and-error learning. In the second set of experiments, we show that high gain has a similar effect on perception and memory, making both more focused and less integrative, and that the effects of gain are not inherently tied to individual predisposition, but rather, they can be flexibly manipulated by means of subliminal priming or experimental task. In the third set of experiments, we show that the reduced integration that is associated with high gain comes with a benefit – weaker susceptibility to classical decision making biases that are commonly seen in behavioral economics work.