The research interests of the Decisions Emotions & Memory (DEMO) Research Group of the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC) are focused mainly on the design principles that govern the structure and function of neural circuits, how these circuits integrate information efficiently and how this information is stored in different memory buffers to be finally used to form judgments and make decisions.
The group will be led by Dr Luis Martínez-Otero, who will join soon the BBRC is co-author of more than 50 scientific articles in the most prestigious journals that have received more than 2,400 citations, and have appeared referenced in documentaries and popular magazines throughout the world. Dr. Martinez is also a member of the influential DANA Alliance for the Brain Initiative, a TEDx lecturer and scientific advisor to several foundations and scientific organizations both in Spain and abroad.
DEMO research group combines an empirical approach with computational modelling to investigate a broad range of phenomena: from the tradeoff between accuracy and energy consumption in the early sensory pathways to the processes by which memory, reasoning, intuition and affective social factors influence beliefs, judgments and choices.
Their ultimate goal is to find canonical principles by which the brain processes and stores information of any kind and ways to use these principles to guide the development of novel information and communication technologies. These technologies might in the future help to ameliorate the effects of different neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and guide in the design of a new generation of robots and autonomous machines capable of making human-like decisions in complex scenarios.
The role of memory on perceptual processes
Memory is not only responsible for how we remember the past; it is also fundamental for how we perceive the present and imagine the future. For instance, the way we perceive the color of an object is not only related to the wave-length of the reflected light and that of its immediate surroundings, but also to our past experience and exposure to different light environments. Reality is thus a construction of the brain, and perceptual memory provides a reference frame which is essential to understand the way we perceive the world, how we (e)valuate different stimuli and the emotional contents of our everyday life experiences.
Alzheimer’s disease patients’ difficulty to understand the world, to properly construct their immediate reality might be as emotionally devastating as their inability to remember. DEMO will pursue innovative research linking different types of memory to different perceptual processes. They will do so by bringing together the expertise of fields as apparently disparate as magic, aesthetics, videogame programming, virtual reality, literature, arts, philosophy, etc. in both laboratory and more ecological conditions.
The role of memory on judgment and decision-making
Memory is fundamental to make adaptive decisions. DEMO will design experiments to address the brain mechanisms of judgment and decision making, how they deteriorate with aging and certain brain disorders that affect memory and cognition, and with developing new strategies for their treatment and rehabilitation. Humans are constantly making decisions; from the most mundane as what to eat for dessert, to the more complex and relevant, such as economic decisions or those related to our moral sense of good and evil.
Sometimes, the elderly and people affected of early dementia can take unusual or fouled decisions, despite having no apparent cognitive deficits. Poor judgment may sometimes be the first manifestation of cognitive impairment. Understanding the neural mechanisms behind our normal decision making abilities is therefore essential for early detection of some cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and to search for the best strategies to compensate the deficits related to them. DEMO wants to address these questions using behavioral experiments, genetic markers, and computational modeling in healthy people and in patient populations.