Research Abstract

Broadly, our laboratory is interested in the neuronal basis of voluntary behavior. What are the neuronal mechanisms that control exploration and learning? How do different attributes of behavioral-options impact our decision-making? For example, risk and unpredictability, sensory novelty, informativeness, and temporal delay all influence our preferences and choices. But the neuronal circuits and computational processes that make this possible remain to be uncovered.

Currently, we are tackling these and other challenging questions across several projects.

Project 1. We live in an uncertain world in which events and outcomes are often unpredictable. Adaptive control of cognition and decision making in response to uncertainty about the future is fundamental for survival. Maladaptive uncertainty-related behaviors, such as persistent risk seeking, are observed in a wide range of psychiatric disorders. But, to date, the neural mechanisms that govern risky decision making and control subjects’ risk attitudes are unclear. We seek to uncover the neuronal mechanisms of risky decision making in humans and other animals.

Project 2. Biological agents, including humans, display a diversity of information seeking behaviors aiming to reduce uncertainty about the future. For example, animals and humans are often willing to pay for information about future events even when this information cannot be used to change their lives. We wish to reveal the computational and neurobiological basis for information seeking. Particularly, we are studying mechanisms through which in complex economic multi-attribute decision making tasks subjects assign value to information and to other attributes to guide their choices.

Project 3. Behavioral experiments show that novel visual objects motivate behavior, for example by capturing attention and gaze, and by promoting the formation of new memories. Computational work argues that novelty triggers new learning. Abnormalities in novelty seeking are strongly associated with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, anhedonia and autism. And yet, despite the importance of novel objects in our daily life, we currently lack an understanding of how primate brain circuits determine whether an object is novel, and how these circuits utilize novelty signals to control novelty-seeking or novelty-avoidance. We are studying how the brain motivates novelty exploration and how it determines whether objects are novel of familiar.

Project 4. Aversive states are affected by our predictions. For example, an unexpected noxious stimulus can elicit more aversion than an expected one. And, some people want to know the probability and timing of noxious events, while other people wish not to know; and when most of us experience uncertainty about aversive events we feel “anxious”. We are studying the similarities and differences in how aversive versus rewarding predictions impact decision making and other behaviorally-relevant processes. How valence specific circuits control subjects’ attitudes towards uncertainty-resolving information in economic decisions is of particular interest.

Selected Publications

  • Zhang K, Chen CD, Monosov IE. Novelty, salience, and surprise timing are signaled by neurons in the basal forebrain. Current Biology. 2019 Jan 7.
  • White JK, Bromberg-Martin ES, Heilbronner SR, Zhang K, Pai J, Haber SN, Monosov IE. A neural network for information seeking. Nature Communications. 2019 November.
  • Monosov IE. How outcome uncertainty mediates attention, learning, and decision making. Trends in Neuroscience. 2020 October 1.
  • Tremblay S, …Monosov IE, Platt ML. An Open Resource for Non-Human Primate Optogenetics. NEURON, 2020, October 12.
  • Monosov IE, Haber SN, Leuthardt EC, Jezzini, A. Anterior cingulate and the control of dynamic behavior. Current Biology, 2020, Dec 07. (pre-pub available by request).
  • Bromberg-Martin ES, Monosov IE. Neural circuitry of information seeking. Current Opinion in Behavioral Science. Available online.

For a complete list of Dr. Monosov's publications, click here.

Ilya Monosov, PhD

Associate Professor of Neuroscience

Washington University
School of Medicine
Campus Box 8108
East McDonnell Medical Sciences, 211
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 362-3740