My general research aim is to understand neuronal mechanisms underlying behavior. Specifically, I am interested in how cerebellar and neocortical networks perform and interact to transform experiences from the outside world into accurate behavioral output. To this end, I record brain activity while animals are learning and performing well-defined custom-made tasks to specify behavioral events, as well as more free and naturalistic behavior.
In Princeton, I study the neuronal computations in the cerebellum underlying the cognitive process of decision making, using behavioral paradigms developed in the Wang lab at Princeton University. I am using silicon probes to record cerebellar (both cortical and deep-nuclear) and forebrain activity to understand how the brain deals with sensory stimuli during learning of an evidence accumulation task.
Check out our publication about this here:
Cerebellar involvement in an evidence-accumulation decision-making task
Ben Deverett, Sue Ann Koay, Marlies Oostland & Samuel S.-H. Wang
Together with Michael Brecht, we studied cannibalism to learn more about kin recognition in humans. Aiming to find all cannibalistic homicides worldwide since 1900, we created a large data set of offenders worldwide since 1900. We then compared the information about the cannibals with information about non-cannibalistic homicides, based on a.o. data from the FBI.
We learned that human cannibals, as other cannibalistic species, killed and ate conspecifics, occasionally vomited and only rarely ate kin. Interestingly, cannibalistic offenders who killed their blood relatives had more severe mental problems than non-kin-cannibals.
It is truly remarkable that even in arguably the most severe criminals of our society – cannibals, who first kill for lust and then eat for lust – we still see a biological mechanism in place to protect kin. This is very similar to behavior of other cannibalistic species, and may suggest anti-kin-ingestion mechanisms evolved from kin-selection many hundred millions of years ago.
Kin-avoidance in Cannibalistic Homicide
Marlies Oostland & Michael Brecht
Frontiers in Psychology (2020)
More information, including the option to browse the complete data set: cannibalismresearch.org.