Assistant Professor Psychology
Major Areas of Research Interest:
My research interests revolve around the question of how the activities of ensembles of neurons drive our capacity to decide, remember, and navigate. In particular, I am interested in the role of the prefrontal cortex in cost-benefit decision making and in the role of the hippocampus in navigation and memory consolidation. I investigate these topics through the use of large-scale extracellular recording methods acquired from rodents as the animals perform a variety of decision-making and navigational behaviors. The results of my research point towards a surprising connection between physical movement and working memory-associated neural activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an observation that has since motivated me to develop novel tools for behavioral control, analysis, and inertial measurement. Research into decision making in our laboratory has also revealed that neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region involved in effort-guided decision making and action selection, integrate information about actions, physical effort, and reward in the service of maintaining action sequences during goal-directed behaviors. Our work in spatial navigation has investigated how the hippocampal navigational system can switch the relative strength of visual and vestibular inputs based on goal location. Our ultimate goal is to connect our work in these two areas by recording from both regions simultaneously in order to determine how contextual and spatial information from the hippocampus becomes integrated with executive processes operating in the prefrontal cortex.
Cowen S.L., Nitz D.A. (2013) Repeating Firing Fields of CA1 Neurons Shift Forward in Response to Increasing Angular Velocity, Journal of Neuroscience. (accepted)
Miller M.A., Thomé A, Cowen S.L. (2013) Intersection of Effort and Risk: Ethological and Neurobiological Perspectives (2013), Frontiers in Neuroscience. Nov. 7, 2013.
Cowen SL, Davis GA, Nitz DA (2012) Anterior cingulate neurons in the rat map anticipated effort and reward to their associated action sequences. Journal of Neurophysiology 107:2393–2407.
Nitz, D. and S. Cowen (2008). "Crossing borders: sleep reactivation as a window on cell assembly formation." Nat Neurosci 11(2): 126-8.
Cowen, S.L. and McNaughton, B.L (2007). Selective delay activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of the rat: The contribution of sensory-motor information and contingency. Journal of Neurophysiology, 98(1):303-16.
Maurer, A.P., Cowen, S.L., Burke, S.N., Barnes, C.A. and McNaughton, B.L. (2006) Phase precession in hippocampal interneurons showing strong functional coupling to individual pyramidal cells. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26:13485-13492.
Maurer,A.P., Cowen, S.L., Burke, S.N., Barnes, C.A. and McNaughton, B.L. (2006) Organization of hippocampal cell assemblies based on theta phase precession. Hippocampus, 16:785-794.
Battaglia, F.P., Sutherland, G.R., Cowen, S.L., McNaughton, B.L. and Harris, K.D. (2005) Firing rate modulation: A simple statistical view of memory trace reactivation. Neural Networks, 18:1280-1291.
NIH Undergraduate Diversity Program:
Thomas White, 2015; "The Effect of Low Dose Ketamine on Dopamine"; 2016, "Validatin tonic dopamine through the use of FSCAV: a novelty technique"; 2017, "Developing Calibration Curves for Carbon Fiber Micro Sensors"
NIH High School Student Research Program:
Gabriel Garland-Rogers, Presidio High School, 2014
Keizer Tumbagahan, Basis North High School, 2015
Andrea Orozco, Nogales High School, 2016
Nathan Mottern, Sabino High School, 2017
Tuesday, August 29, 2017