Decision-making: from models to mechanisms and back

Arantza Barrios (primary)
Cell and Developmental Biology
University College London
Benedetto de Martino (secondary)
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
University College London


Life is all about making choices. This applies as much to tiny worms as it does to humans. Despite the difference in these two animals’ life styles and brains, their decision-making process shares some fundamental properties: trade-off, and deliberation followed by commitment. To address how brains perform such decision-making processes, we take a reductionist approach: to identify circuit motifs which function as minimal computational units and that can be found in the brain of any animal. For this, we will combine automated analysis of behaviour, neuronal manipulations and modelling to dissect the C. elegans male’s choice between sex and food.


1. Barrios, A. Exploratory decisions of the Caenorhabditis elegans male: a conflict of two drives. Semin. Cell Dev. Biol. 33, 10–17 (2014).
2. Braganza, O. & Beck, H. The Circuit Motif as a Conceptual Tool for Multilevel Neuroscience. Trends in Neurosciences 41, 128–136 (2018).
3. Horchler, A. D. et al. in Biomimetic and Biohybrid Systems 9222, 26–37 (Springer, Cham, 2015).
4. Kim, S., Laschi, C. & Trimmer, B. Soft robotics: a bioinspired evolution in robotics. Trends in Biotechnology, Vol. 20 (2002), pp. 147-148 31, 287–294 (2013).
5. Ullman, S. Using neuroscience to develop artificial intelligence. Science 363, 692–693 (2019).
6. Javer, A., Ripoll-Sánchez, L. & Brown, A. E. X. Powerful and interpretable behavioural features for quantitative phenotyping of Caenorhabditis elegans. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 373, 20170375 (2018).
7. De Martino, B., Kumaran, D., Seymour, B. & Dolan, R. J. Frames, biases, and rational decision-making in the human brain. Science 313, 684–687 (2006).
8. Koyama, M. & Pujala, A. Mutual inhibition of lateral inhibition: a network motif for an elementary computation in the brain. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 49, 69–74 (2018).
9. Adams, G. K., Watson, K. K., Pearson, J. & Platt, M. L. Neuroethology of decision-making. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 22, 982–989 (2012).
10. Cain, N. & Shea-Brown, E. Computational models of decision making: integration, stability, and noise. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 22, 1047–1053 (2012).
11. Gold, J. I. & Shadlen, M. N. The neural basis of decision making. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 30, 535–574 (2007).
12. TINBERGEN, N. Derived activities; their causation, biological significance, origin, and emancipation during evolution. Q Rev Biol 27, 1–32 (1952).

Molecules, cells and industrial biotechnology
Area of Biology
Techniques & Approaches
Mathematics / StatisticsMolecular BiologySimulation / Modelling