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Robert West

Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Why Psychology?

The human brain is one of, if not the, most complex biological system that we know of. Additionally, the human brain is likely unique in being the one biological system engaged in the pursuit of self-understanding. The field of Neuroscience seeks to understand how the brain implements thought, emotion, individual behavior, and social interaction. During my career I have been fascinated by how the brain regulates action based upon our goals and studied the neural correlates of goal-directed action related to cognitive control, working memory, and prospective memory. I enjoy teaching a variety of courses (i.e., Neuroscience and Behavior, Neuropsychology, Cognitive and Social Neuroscience) wherein my students and I explore how the brain gives rise to the mind and behavior.  

Research interests

My research uses brain wave (i.e., EEG and ERP) and behavioral approaches to explore how the brain implements goal-directed action. During my career, I have done basic research using these methods to understand how the brain processes errors and feedback, overcomes interference, and realizes delayed intentions. I have also studied the basis of age-related differences in brain activity and behavior in these areas; and examined the effects of video games on cognitive control, emotion, and risky decision making. More information about my previous research can be found on Google Scholar or Research Gate.

 My current research is focused on two areas: Ethical decision-making related to digital information security, and feedback processing associated with learning and risky decision-making.

 Cybercrime represents a significant threat to the security of individuals, companies, and government entities. The neural systems that are recruited when individuals are considering unethical decisions related to information security are not well understood. In my lab we have been using ERPs to study the neural basis of ethical decision making in this domain and exploring the effects of individual differences including self-control and moral belief.

 Feedback processing related to the outcome of a decision is important for understanding learning and adaptive behavior. In my laboratory, we are interested in how feedback processing differs when individuals make a decision relative to when an external agent makes a decision on their behalf. This research reveals differences in the medial frontal cortex related to the agent making a choice, even when the outcomes (i.e., gaining or losing money) are the same. In future research we hope to explore the variation in the neural correlates of feedback processing when individuals make decisions for themselves or someone else.      

Student engagement in research:

 In the Cognitive and Decision Neuroscience lab we use brain waves (event-related brain potentials or ERPs) to explore how the brain controls attention, makes decisions related to ethical behavior, and uses feedback about choices to guide action. Students working in the lab collaborate to design studies, collect and analyze data, and co-author articles for publication; and also travel to regional and national conferences to present the results of our research and network with scholars from across the country and around the world. Research opportunities in the lab are available through various programs including directed research, senior seminar, Student-Faculty Research, and SRF.