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Research Areas / Mechanistic Cognitive Neuroscience

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Research Area / Mechanistic Cognitive Neuroscience

Understanding how the brain enables flexible behavior.

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Animal Paths Icon

We want to understand how animals infer and use internal models to produce adaptive, flexible behavior in dynamic, uncertain settings. 

We aim to discover the circuit dynamics, network architectures, neuronal biophysics, synaptic rules, and molecular pathways that make cognition possible.

We are quantitative experimentalists, theorists, and tool-builders, all working together to break through technical, conceptual, and computational barriers that make cognitive computations challenging to understand.

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05/11/20 |  We are excited to welcome Carsen Stringer as a Group Leader in MCN. Learn more about the Stringer lab

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Our Work

Multiple trials of mouse behavior plotted together

Creating new behavioral paradigms

Our researchers are developing ways to elicit, perturb, measure, and interpret complex and rapidly adapting behaviors, both in the lab and in enriched, ethological settings. This visualization from the Dudman lab shows the trajectories of a mouse learning to run to two remembered locations to trigger release of a reward. Paths to the different locations are depicted in white and blue.

Zebrafish neurons and glia are active at different times during a behavior

Pioneering new techniques

Janelia labs collaborate across disciplines to pioneer new techniques to probe mechanisms of cognition. The Ahrens Lab used whole-brain imaging to monitor the activity of neurons and glia separately in behaving zebrafish, sorting out the relative contribution of each cell type to a specific behavior – giving up in the face of futile actions. 

Two views of compass neurons in the Drosophila ellipsoid body

Building upon Janelia’s strengths

Our labs benefit from the ongoing, foundational work at Janelia on neural circuits. Shown here are Drosophila ellipsoid body compass neurons segmented in an electron microscopy reconstruction from the Hess Lab and FlyEM team (left) and genetically labeled in a light microscopy image from the Rubin Lab and FlyLight team (right). 

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Open Positions

Group Leaders

We have an open position for a Group Leader in the Mechanistic Cognitive Neuroscience (MCN) research area. We are looking to recruit an early-career scientist interested in gaining insights into the neural underpinnings of cognition using flies or fish as the model organism.

To learn more about the application materials and apply, go to our application portal.



Multiple labs are recruiting postdocs. Please see each lab webpage for more details.


Doctoral Students

More information can be found here.

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“How the brain enables cognition is one of the biggest questions in neuroscience. To tackle it, we’re doing everything from designing new imaging techniques to creating novel paradigms to study flexible behavior.”
-Vivek Jayaraman

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Conferences and Workshops

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