Rui Costa, principal investigator of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia (IGC), in Portugal, is one of only 219 recipients of the prestigious European Research Council Starting grants, out of 2503 applicants for the 2009 edition of this flagship award scheme. The grant, totalling close to 1.6 million euro, for a period of five years, will allow Rui Costa's young research team to pursue their research into the neurological mechanisms underlying goal-directed decision making behaviour, versus habit-based responses.
Rui Costa explains the aims of his research programme, 'We are daily, constantly having to make decisions and select appropriate actions to obtain specific goals. Actions may be selected on the basis of their consequences - for example, driving work with the aim of getting home. This type of goal-directed behaviour demands constant control and monitoring of those goals and consequences - an effortful endeavour. However, if we repeat the same action often enough, it may become automatic, that is, a habit, and the effort it requires may be reduced.'
'Habitual responses do not need constant evaluation of the consequences, and are often at play even when we wish to do something different - for example, we may wish to drive home from work, but end up somewhere else. There is increasing evidence that the neural circuits underlying goal-directed and habit-based decisions are different. Our aim is to establish the differences between these neural processes, both at the cellular and molecular level. To achieve this, we will be using cutting-edge molecular biology and electrophysiology (recording electrical activity in the brain) techniques. If we could unravel the processes whereby goal-directed and habit behaviour are determined, we would be closer to understanding not only decision-making processes, but also, obsessive behaviour disorders', adds Rui.
Indeed, this research may provide insight i
|Contact: Silvia Castro|
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia