Tim Hanks, Ph.D.
Dr. Hanks is a neuroscientist with expertise in the neural mechanisms of decision making and in using rodent models to develop behavioral paradigms of decision commitment.
During his graduate studies at the University of Washington, he worked with Dr. Michael Shadlen to develop probabilistic models of neural coding consistent with Bayesian decision-making processes.
Dr. Hanks's subsequent post-doctoral studies with Dr. Carlos Brody at Princeton University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute focused on identifying neural correlates of evidence accumulation in the prefrontal and posterior parietal cortex regions of rodent brains, which spurred his interest in using newly available rodent models and tools to untangle the mysteries of neural circuit mechanisms related to decision-making and cognition.
Dr. Hanks is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and runs a neurobiology research laboratory at the Center for Neuroscience.
The central goal of Dr. Hanks's research is to elucidate the neural mechanisms that underlie decision making. Decision making occurs at the interface between cognition and behavior, so we believe that understanding its neural basis holds the promise of exposing the general principles of neural computation that support cognition. His primary approach is to train rodents to perform complex behavioral tasks that are carefully designed to allow his team to develop mathematical descriptions of the underlying decision processes.
Dr. Hanks's lab employs high-throughput, automated training methods to provide a steady pipeline of subjects for these studies, using the rapidly expanding toolkit of cutting-edge molecular and cellular techniques available for rodents, such as optogenetics, in combination with high- density neural recordings to both measure and manipulate neural activity across a range of brain regions, including cortical and subcortical networks. Knowledge gained from these experiments is used to develop and constrain circuit-level descriptions of the computations that underlie decision making. The nature of this research is highly collaborative, and the UC Davis neuroscience community provides a wealth of opportunities for these collaborations.
The general goal of Dr. Hanks's research is to connect general principles of decision making to neural circuit mechanisms, thus paving the way for the development of more principled treatments for disorders of higher brain function. There are a number of such disorders that involve impairments to decision making, including depression, schizophrenia, and dementia, among others. His lab's experiments are intended to develop information about what interventions are necessary to produce specific alterations of the neural computations that underlie decision making behaviors.
Furthermore, the technologies Dr. Hanks employs also furnish the potential capacity to perform targeted interventions. Thus, the long-term goal of his research is to develop sufficient understanding of the neural mechanisms that govern decision processes to inform hypothesis-driven approaches towards effective, directed treatment of disorders of higher brain function.