When we reach for a piece of cutlery we rarely take time to scan the full content of the drawer. We merely put a hand in, and nine out of ten times we immediately locate what we were looking for. But sometimes we do not — that is when most of us will take advantage of behavioral flexibility, an ability to adapt cognitive processing strategies to face new and unexpected conditions in the environment. What is fascinating is that even in this simple example humans will employ different strategies that are highly heterogeneous in a way that depends on individual characteristics. Psychologists refer to these characteristics as personality traits. One person might first check every corner of the cutlery drawer, and someone else might just ask for help. However, in some disorders characterized by repetitive and stereotyped behaviors this adaptation to changes in conditions does not occur at all – a person with autism will likely keep on opening and closing the same drawer. But how is this richness of flexible behavior or the lack thereof determined by the brain?
The Neural Networks Underlying Behavioral Flexibility group aims to understand how cerebello-cortical brain activity translates into behaviors that adapt to ever-changing environments. We are particularly interested in uncovering the mechanisms of maladaptive perseverative behaviors characteristic of autism spectrum disorder. To that end we employ a wide range of techniques, from behavioral assays through in vivo electrophysiology, virtual reality and calcium imaging to modeling.