Our brains are generally flexible enough to adapt to changes in the world around us. But reduced flexibility in thinking and behaviour is common among patients who suffer from certain neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or autism. As Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neurophysiology, Dr. Liya Ma is investigating how neurons in the brain enable flexibility in decision-making.
She and her research team are exploring how neural communications can support cognitive flexibility in non-human primates. To do this, they are monitoring primates’ neuronal activities during tasks and manipulating the neurons’ activities to identify the roles that specific brain regions play in terms of cognitive and behavioural flexibility. Ma and her team are also using experimental data to design mathematical models for cognitive flexibility and identifying the pathological changes that lead to brain damage. Their research could shed light on new ways to treat neuropsychiatric disorders.