T&C Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience
The T&C Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience (SDN) is directed by Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics. This Center studies how human brains make decisions as individuals, and in groups and during collective action, where knowledge and actions of other people influence how the brain computes social influence. The SDN approach is highly computational—that is, we use mathematical algorithms to approximately describe how people are perceiving the world, processing information, and computing beliefs and valuations in order to make choices. Knowing where in the brain these neural circuits are located enables us to do causal studies (e.g. disrupting brain activity to see how behavior changes) and understand the computational basis of psychiatric disorders.
Center scientists all study humans. We actively "trade" ideas and methods with adjacent disciplines, including computer science, economic theory, psychiatry, and political science. While our focus is on humans, some studies (and particularly collaborations outside of Caltech) also compare behavior and neural activity of humans and non-human animals to understand similarities and differences. Our Center is also interested in how neuroscientific concepts can be used to create theories of behavior such as habits, and then use those theories to analyze habits in large everyday datasets (such as phone usage or exercise and sleep).
Colin Camerer and students
Colin Camerer teaching
Colin Camerer giving a talk at the Chen Institute 2019 Retreat.
Credit: Chen Institute, Caltech
Chen Institute Virtual Seminar - Colin Camerer, "Forced Exploration and the ‘New Normal' from COVID-19".
A core mission of the Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience is to provide seed funding for Caltech faculty pursuing highly innovative projects. In these projects, preliminary data are usually necessary to show that a project is feasible, and what is likely to result, in order to receive larger-scale research funding. Chen funds generate these "proof of concept" data.
Seed Research Projects funded by the Chen Center for Social and Decision Neuroscience
The Center sponsors innovation grants for both graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. These grants give trainees the opportunity to pursue research projects unrelated to the research in their labs. The Center also funds a Shared Postdoctoral Fellowship program which is intended to encourage new or boundary-crossing collaborations across the wide range of Caltech neuroscience, specifically for projects with a focus on social and decision neuroscience.
In addition to the grant and fellowship programs the Center hosts symposiums and seminars, including an annual Distinguished Lecture series, as well as regular seminars by international decision neuroscientists, sometimes in half-day "mini-conferences" combining three invited speakers and short "flash talks" by PhD students and postdocs.