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Dr Kristin Hillman Research Interests

Email kristin.hillman@otago.ac.nz 
Tel 64 3 470 3473
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Neural Basis of Effortful Behaviour

 Dr Kristin HillmanCost-benefit decision-making frequently requires an assessment of effort: Am I willing to put in the work required to achieve X?  Our research examines how the brain formulates and eventually executes this decision.

How the brain codes effort-reward information

 To make optimal decisions, your brain must assess whether a certain course of action is going to be ‘worth the effort’.  This requires detecting the amount of effort that is going to be required, and weighing it up against the value of the end reward.  We’ve hypothesized that neurons in a particular region of the prefrontal cortex encode such effort-reward ratios, and signal whether a certain course of action is going to be worth the effort.  By encoding and storing this information, the brain enables us to then make an informed decision as to how we expend effort. 

Individual differences in effort investment

While the brain is capable of encoding effort-reward information and indicating when a course of action is ‘worth it’, individuals are highly variable as to whether they actually execute effortful behaviour.  Some subjects routinely accept high-effort, high-reward challenges, while others routinely avoid them.  Our current research tests whether differences in brain signals – particularly in the prefrontal region that encodes effort-reward information – accounts for individual differences in effortful behaviour.  These projects will help to clarify how the brain drives the decision to engage in and persist in effortful pursuits, and could help to elucidate the cortical components of the proverbial work ethic.

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Publications

Hillman, K. L., & Bilkey, D. K. (2012). Neural encoding of competitive effort in the anterior cingulate cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 15(9), 1290-1298. doi: 10.1038/nn.3187

Hillman, K. L., & Bilkey, D. K. (2010). Neurons in the rat anterior cingulate cortex dynamically encode cost-benefit in a spatial decision-making task. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(22), 7705-7713. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1273-10.2010

Laurence, N. C., Labuschagne, L. G., Lura, B. G., & Hillman, K. L. (2015). Regular exercise enhances task-based industriousness in laboratory rats. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0129831. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129831

Hillman, K. L. (2013). Cost-benefit analysis: The first real rule of fight club? Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7, 248. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00248

Hillman, K. L., Lei, S., Doze, V. A., & Porter, J. E. (2009). Alpha-1A adrenergic receptor activation increases inhibitory tone in CA1 hippocampus. Epilepsy Research, 84, 97-109. doi: 10.1016/j.eplepsyres.2008.12.007

Journal - Research Article

Laurence, N. C., Labuschagne, L. G., Lura, B. G., & Hillman, K. L. (2015). Regular exercise enhances task-based industriousness in laboratory rats. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0129831. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0129831

Hillman, K. L. (2013). Cost-benefit analysis: The first real rule of fight club? Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7, 248. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00248

Hillman, K. L., & Bilkey, D. K. (2012). Neural encoding of competitive effort in the anterior cingulate cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 15(9), 1290-1298. doi: 10.1038/nn.3187

Hillman, K. L., & Bilkey, D. K. (2010). Neurons in the rat anterior cingulate cortex dynamically encode cost-benefit in a spatial decision-making task. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(22), 7705-7713. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1273-10.2010

Hillman, K. L., Lei, S., Doze, V. A., & Porter, J. E. (2009). Alpha-1A adrenergic receptor activation increases inhibitory tone in CA1 hippocampus. Epilepsy Research, 84, 97-109. doi: 10.1016/j.eplepsyres.2008.12.007

Hillman, K. L., Doze, V. A., & Porter, J. E. (2007). α1A-Adrenergic receptors are functionally expressed by a subpopulation of cornu ammonis 1 interneurons in rat hippocampus. Journal of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, 321, 1062-1068. doi: 10.1124/jpet.106.119297

Jurgens, C. W. D., Hammad, H. M., Lichter, J. A., Boese, S. J., Nelson, B. W., Goldstein, B. L., … Hillman, K. L., … Doze, V. A. (2007). α2A adrenergic receptor activation inhibits epileptiform activity in the rat hippocamal CA3 region. Molecular Pharmacology, 71(6), 1572-1581. doi: 10.1124/mol.106.031773

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Journal - Research Other

Hillman, K. L., & Bilkey, D. K. (2013). Persisting through subjective effort: A key role for the anterior cingulate cortex? Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 36(6), 691-692. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X13001039

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