Michael Shadlen

Michael Shadlen is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute and Professor of Neuroscience at Columbia University. He is a member of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and the Kavli Institute of Brain Science. Dr. Shadlen obtained his undergraduate and medical degrees at Brown University, his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley with Ralph Freeman. He trained in clinical neurology at Stanford University before returning to the lab as a postdoctoral fellow with William T. Newsome. He then joined the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at the University of Washington, where he remained until 2012. His research focuses primarily on the neural mechanisms that underlie decision making. He is also a neurologist and a jazz guitarist. He received the Alden Spencer Prize (2009), the Golden Brain (2012), and the Karl Spencer Lashley Award (2017). He was elected Fellow of the AAAS and he is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Michael Shadlen studies neurons in the association cortex that process information from the visual cortex to give rise to interpretations, decisions, and plans for behavior. His experiments combine electrophysiology, behavioral and computational methods to advance our knowledge of higher brain function.

Research in the Shadlen lab aims to elucidate neural mechanisms that support normal cognitive operations involved in decision making: (i) inference from evidence, (ii) the tradeoff between decision speed and accuracy, (iii) the assignment of confidence in a decision, and (iv) the capacity to combine and weigh evidence of varying degrees of reliability. Our emerging understanding of these mechanisms provides a window on wider aspects of higher brain function, such as reasoning, planning, strategizing and vacillating.  Shadlen believes that such mechanisms hold the secret to what makes a normal brain “not confused.” Moreover, these same mechanisms are likely to constitute important “failure modes” that underlie a variety of cognitive disorders—that is, the translation of a diverse array of etiologies to the expression of cognitive dysfunction. Thus, he expects that in the not too distant future we may manipulate and restore these basic mechanisms to treat brain disorders affecting a wide range of higher cognitive functions affecting personality, ideation, volition, awareness and decision making.

Michael Shadlen is a member of the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience Advisory Committee.