Social Mood Conference  |  Socionomics Foundation

Kenneth Kishida wants to know what happens in your brain when you make decisions. The research scientist from the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute discussed his pioneering work on human decision-making at the Social Mood Conference on April 5, 2014. His talk covered insights about the role of dopamine in decision-making and how the context in which we make decisions influences our brain’s behavior. He spoke with us about his work a few weeks before the conference.

Socionomics Foundation: How did you become interested in human social behavior?

Kenneth Kishida: I’ve always been interested in questions about human nature and our existence. I studied genetics and philosophy in college. I think I was naturally attracted to the empirical and theoretical approaches in science in general and, eventually, neuroscience specifically.

SF: Can you tell us a bit about your current work?

Kenneth Kishida: I am fundamentally interested in how humans make decisions. We do so in a variety of contexts, but we use basically the same ‘machinery,’ which we carry around with us in our skulls. To investigate these processes, I use direct and indirect measurements of brain function while participants make value-guided decisions in social and nonsocial contexts.

SF: What are some of the tools that you use in your research?

Kenneth Kishida: I use both invasive and noninvasive techniques, including fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Comparing the human brain to a computer is one of the most successful analogies we have for describing what our brains seem to do. New tools like the technology I will describe in my talk are necessary to determine how true is the “our brains = computers” analogy. For example, computers are composed of dry circuit boards, wires, and so on. Our living tissue is wet and messy. My work will highlight the computational role that chemicals such as dopamine play in carrying out remarkably efficient, complex decisions. This research has generated unprecedented insight into the function of dopamine in humans.

SF: Why are you excited about speaking at the Social Mood Conference?

Kenneth Kishida: I always enjoy cross-disciplinary interaction and the opportunity to learn something new. I look forward to meeting new colleagues and opening doors to new collaborations at the Social Mood Conference. The research I will present is at the cutting edge of the kinds of measurements we can make in humans, and thus it is in very early stages. Its importance will be measured by the impact this new technology can have on answering questions about human decision-making behavior.

SF: Thank you, Dr. Kishida.

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