How Does the Brain Makes Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty?

Maital Neta

Maital Neta recently joined the Psychology Department and is trying to answer this and related questions in her research. Check out her background and research below.

Maital Neta was born in Texas and raised in California. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology at UCLA (2002), and then moved to the east coast when she was hired as a research assistant at Harvard Medical School (2002-2004). From there, she moved even farther north for graduate school, where she received a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College (2010). Finally, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Neurology Department at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, before joining our faculty this summer.

Her work examines psychophysiological and neural responses to ambiguity resolution in the domain of emotional facial expressions. Specifically, although some expressions provide clear predictive information that something good (e.g., happy) or bad (e.g., angry) will happen, other expressions, like surprise, have predicted both positive (e.g., birthday party) and negative (e.g., car accident) events for us in the past.

When presented in the absence of contextual information, these ambiguously valenced expressions can be used to delineate a valence bias: ambiguous stimuli are stably interpreted negatively by some people and positively by others. The working hypothesis in the lab is that positivity requires regulation. Moreover, she studies the functional networks in the human brain that support these decision-making processes, specifically relating to task control. She uses a variety of methods from psychology and neuroscience, including psychophysiology (facial electromyography and electrodermal activity), functional MRI and resting-state functional MRI to address these research questions.