Dr Sam Berens

Dr Sam Berens

Lecturer in Psychology

Telephone: 01273 872776
Email: s.berens@sussex.ac.uk

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Sam Berens

Cognitive neuroscience of learning and inference

My research focuses on the brain systems that allow us to learn new information, recall details from memory, and use what we have learnt to make inferences about the world around us. Both humans and non-human animals have a remarkable ability to pick up on complex patterns. This allows us to make predictions, decide on the best course of action, and solve unfamiliar problems. We rely on these abilities in many situations, for instance, when learning to recognise different animals, acquiring new skills, and interpreting the events in a story.

How do our brains ‘encode’ new information without erasing previous memories? How do we know what information we need to encode? How do we piece together the details of distinct events to identify general patterns? These questions are fundamental to our understanding of organic intelligence, and the answers will help alleviate disorders of learning and memory (e.g., specific learning difficulties and Alzheimer’s disease).

To address these questions, I use a variety of research methods including behavioural testing and functional neuroimaging (fMRI). I have a particularly strong interest in building computational models of brain processes and testing their predictions against behavioural and neuroimaging data. In recent years, artificial neural networks have provided us with an extremely powerful framework for understanding learning and inference. However, the often surprising predictions that these neural models make have yet to be tested in humans.

During a rotation in the learning and inference lab you may help develop a computational model of learning and decision-making or test the predictions of an existing model in a behavioural experiment. PhD projects can expand on this work with large-scale behavioural studies and fMRI experiments. A short list of project ideas can be found here.

Please feel free to visit out lab website. Do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to discuss potential projects.

Key references

  • Berens, S. C., & Bird, C. M. (2022). Hippocampal and medial prefrontal cortices encode structural task representations following progressive and interleaved training schedules. PLOS Computational Biology18(10), e1010566.
  • Berens, S. C., Joensen, B. H., & Horner, A. J. (2021). Tracking the emergence of location-based spatial representations in human scene-selective cortex. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience33(3), 445-462.
  • Berens, S. C., Bird, C. M., & Harrison, N. A. (2020). Minocycline differentially modulates human spatial memory systems. Neuropsychopharmacology45(13), 2162-2169.
  • Berens, S. C., Richards, B. A., & Horner, A. J. (2020). Dissociating memory accessibility and precision in forgetting. Nature Human Behaviour4(8), 866-877.
  • Berens, S. C., Horst, J. S., & Bird, C. M. (2018). Cross-situational learning is supported by propose-but-verify hypothesis testing. Current Biology28(7), 1132-1136.

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