Habits are a fundamental part of animal life. In the brain, areas that form a network with the dorsolateral striatum have been shown to be critical for the formation and execution of habits. In this talk, I will outline our efforts to help understand how exactly the striatum participates in habits and how habits themselves might be detected and observed. First, patterns of neural activity recorded in animals during learning show that the striatum represents habits with, in part, a burst of energy at the beginning of a behavior. We find that this activity causes behavior to be fast and vigorous, with behavioral vigor emerging as a key defining characteristic of habits. The increased activity in the striatum also causes behavior to be insensitive to the value of the behavioral outcome, a traditional measure of habits. However, additional studies show that the outcome-value assay of habits is highly context-dependent, thus casting doubt on how it can be used. Further studies test the question of whether this striatum activity works in a forward-planning manner to help behavior be optimal and adaptive, or instead if it serves to allow animals to keep doing what has worked in the past. Initial evidence finds somewhat surprising support for the first possibility. Collectively, the data presented will hopefully shine some new light into the process by which habits might best be studied in the lab as well further clarify the role that the striatum serves for habits.
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
4448 East Hall
Kyle S. Smith, Associate Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College is giving a talk titled: "The role of the striatum in habits "