Full course description
The central topic of this course is meaningful behaviour. Behaviour means acting in the world with the intention to change it to our benefit. Behaviour therefore always requires in one way or other a motor action. But it always also involves a goal that it was aimed at. Students will investigate how the brain is organised to produce such meaningful behaviour. Students will focus primarily on voluntary actions. Such actions involve a motivational component, but also cognitive considerations, attention choices and motor options. And, for each of these components decisions have to be made. Students will see that different parts of the brain are involved in these decisions, in close collaboration with subcortical structures such as basal ganglia.
Students will discuss the hierarchical organisation of the motor system -- the apparatus to generate actions that influence the environment. Then the students will focus on the cognitive system. It is responsible for steering action choices by taking into account the options provided by a situation. In this it is guided by the regularities learned previously about this and other situations. Next the students will investigate how choice of options is influenced by the expected rewards of the options and by how much we like them. Lastly, after having decided which option we want, we still need to work out how we are going to get it. And this requires monitoring any errors in obtaining it, to learn to do better next time. The students will further investigate how the emotional and social aspects of the situation influence the option choices.
This tour will make clear that meaningful behaviour engages the whole brain. Exemplary chosen studies on animals and humans will make clear the differential contributions of subsystems of the brain, while discussion of diseases (Parkinson’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, apathy) and clinical lesions affecting these subsystems will demonstrate their relevance for human behaviour.
Students are able:
- to describe the role of (sub-)cortical structures for movement and action selection (incl. prefrontal cortex);
- to explain the relation between movement and cognition , and translate this knowledge to motor/cognitive impairment in patients with Parkinson’s disease;
- to distinguish between choosing an option based on expected reward and choosing an action to bring closer the chosen option. To relate actions and decisions to the moral and social context (i.e. social cognition, moral decisions, altruistic, and cooperative behaviour).