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Dr Ryan Ward, thumbnailDr Ward's general research area is behavioural neuroscience, with a focus on the neural circuitry underlying cognition-motivation interactions.

Dr Ward received his PhD from Utah State University in 2008. He spent 6 years as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York City, where he explored the behavioural and neurobiological effects of increased striatal dopamine D2 receptor expression in an animal model of schizophrenia. He found deficits in both cognition and motivation. More importantly, motivation interacted with cognition in producing behavioural impairments.

Dr Ward joined the University of Otago as a lecturer in 2014. His current research uses molecular genetic approaches which allow him to target and manipulate specified neural populations and determine their role in the interaction of cognition and motivation. His lab is specifically looking at the interaction between motivation and attention. The nucleus accumbens is critical in motivated behaviour, and participates in a circuit with the basal forebrain and prefrontal cortex. This circuit is crucial to attentional processes and translation of information to adaptive behavioural choices. They hypothesise that the nucleus accumbens is a crucial hub in the interaction between attention and motivation, recruiting basal forebrain attentional machinery and synthesising top down information from prefrontal cortex to produce an adaptive behavioural output.

Understanding the interaction between motivation and cognition is critical to understanding the impairments suffered by patients diagnosed with psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. Cognitive and motivational impairments are the most debilitating aspects of the disease, and interact to produce lifelong functional impairment. This research will clarify the functional circuitry involved in these interactions, and may provide insight into beneficial treatment strategies.

Find out more about Dr Ward's research here


Parnaudeau, S., Taylor, K., Bolkan, S. S., Ward, R. D., Balsam, P. D., & Kellendonk, C. (2015). Mediodorsal thalamus hypofunction impairs flexible goal-directed behavior. Biological Psychiatry, 77(5), 445-453. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.03.020

Trifilieff, P., Feng, B., Urizar, E., Winiger, V., Ward, R. D., Taylor, K. M., … Javitch, J. A. (2013). Increasing dopamine D2 receptor expression in the adult nucleus accumbens enhances motivation. Molecular Psychiatry, 18(9), 1025-1033. doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.57

Jensen, G., Ward, R. D., & Balsam, P. D. (2013). Information: Theory, brain, and behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 100(3), 408-431. doi: 10.1002/jeab.49

Parnaudeau, S., O'Neill, P.-K., Bolkan, S. S., Ward, R. D., Abbas, A. I., Roth, B. L., … Kellendonk, C. (2013). Inhibition of mediodorsal thalamus disrupts thalamofrontal connectivity and cognition. Neuron, 77(6), 1151-1162. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.01.038

Ward, R., Gallistel, C. R., & Balsam, P. D. (2013). It's the information! Behavioural Processes, 95, (pp. 3-7). doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2013.01.005

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