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Hearing

The phantom percept of ringing in the ears, tinnitus, occurs in nearly 15 percent of the American population. Cases are commonly observed in wartime military veterans and elderly, with high coincidence with hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Lew et al, 2007, Vanneste et al, 2011). Recent explanations for possible mechanisms of phantom ringing percepts have varied from cortical synchrony changes to brainstem pathway imbalances to neuromodulatory changes (Schaette and Kempter, 2009). Drawing from clinical studies that indicate correlations between thalamocortical projections and tinnitus (Llinas et al, 1999) and animal studies demonstrating increased synchrony in key auditory regions in tinnitus (Eggermont, 2007), many hypotheses for how this balance may could be disrupted in tinnitus have surfaced (Roberts et al, 2009). I use a variety of theoretical and electrophysiological techniques to probe the underlying mechanisms of this percept. Understanding the neurologic basis of trauma, including tinnitus, is essential for isolating mechanisms for potential treatments of these disorders.

Neuroeconomics

Humans make thousands of decisions every day. These decisions often require we make a choice between two very different entities.  Everyday, I walk past fruit stands in Manhattan that have not only apples and oranges, but bananas and berries and mangos and pineapples.  Humans decide, in real time, whether or not the fruit is necessary to satisfy hunger, an essential step in survival.   The decisions that matter the most to the survival of our species are those ensuring we get enough nutrients, drink enough water, avoid danger, and reproduce. I am interested in the brain regions responsible for deciding how much food and water we need. As people become more hungry or thirsty, their evaluation of risky situations often changes.

Such studies are relevant for understanding how human behavior changes when confronting challenging tasks. These studies are part of an emerging field known as neuroeconomics. Broadly speaking, neuroeconomics draws from neuroscience, psychology, and economics to study how humans make complex decisions.