Tel 64 3 479 5660
Dr Ryan Ward's general research area is behavioural neuroscience, with a particular focus on the neural circuitry underlying motivation, cognition and their interaction. He uses a combination of molecular genetic, pharmacological, and sophisticated behavioural methods to probe the role of cortical and subcortical brain structures in motivational recruitment of cognitive processes in response to reward related cues. His research aims to understand how motivation and cognition interact in normal behavioural function, and what goes wrong in diseases such as schizophrenia. His research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. He is an author on over 30 articles published in international journals. He was the recipient of the Basic Research Dissertation Award and the B.F. Skinner New Researcher Award from Division 25 of the American Psychological Association. He currently serves on the review board of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and has served as a reviewer for multiple other journals.
Ryan received a PhD from Utah State University in 2008. He conducted post-doctoral research in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Columbia University in New York City from 2008-2014. He joined the Department of Psychology as a Lecturer in 2014.
Motivation, Cognition, and Their Interaction
The coordinated interaction between motivation and cognition is critical to daily function, and dysfunction in these areas is symptomatic of a number of psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. The neural circuitry underlying these interactions, however, is unknown. Our work has thus far focused on the contribution of cortical areas which are involved in translating reward related information to adaptive behavioural strategies. We are currently looking at the role of connected areas, such as nucleus accumbens, a subcortical structure heavily involved in motivation and reward-related behaviour. We hypothesize that integration of reward related and cognitive information in nucleus accumbens is critical for the adaptive interaction of motivation and cognition.
Temporal Information Processing
Temporal information processing is critical to all learning, because any stimuli or events to be learned occur over time (whether seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks). Thus, understanding how the brain represents time and encodes different types of information learned as a function of experience over time is critical to understanding both the psychological and neurobiological basis of learning. We study how the brain extracts this information from the environment, how it is stored, extracted, and translated into adaptive behaviour.
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