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Joshua Brown
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Tracy James
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, September 2, 2009

IU neuroscientist awarded $683,736 NIH grant to study the brain and risk taking

Sept. 2, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A neuroscientist in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences has received a two-year $683,736 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a project aimed at understanding how certain parts of the brain learn to predict the outcome of one's own actions.

The project, which will use fMRI technology and sophisticated computational neural models, will focus on risk taking. Some individuals, said lead investigator Joshua Brown, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, are very sensitive to the possibility of making a mistake and will avoid risky behavior. Others, he said, engage in risky behavior such as drug-taking and unprotected sex despite the consequences.

"Our research explores how the brain learns to predict moment-by-moment the possible consequences of behavior, whether good or bad, and how those areas contribute to better decision-making in risky situations," Brown said.

The two-year award is funded through the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse, with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"We have found specific parts of the brain that detect and help avoid risky behavior," Brown said. "In substance dependent individuals, those brain areas are pretty much asleep at the wheel, so individuals look for pleasure no matter the risks involved."

Brown expects that his research will one day lead to a better understanding and better treatment for substance dependence.

Brown's research interests focus on the frontal lobes of the brain, exploring how people and animals learn, optimize and control goal-directed behavior in complex and changing environments. These abilities involve reinforcement learning, planning, prediction, expectation, evaluation and sequential ordering of movements, in addition to complex sensory processing. For more information about Brown's Cognitive Control Lab, visit

Brown can be reached at 812-855-9282 and The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences is part of the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington.