In the 2015 paper, ‘Two spatiotemporally distinct value systems shape reward-based learning in the human brain’, research from Dr Elsa Fouragnan uncovered the dynamics of two separate but interacting value systems; these systems have a direct impact on how we learn. To understand how this happens Dr Elsa Fouragnan, Future Leader Fellow (UKRI - MRC), Lecturer in Neuroscience and Brain Stimulation Laboratory Lead at the Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) combined simultaneously EEG and fMRI:

Imagine picking wild berries in a forest, when suddenly a swarm of bees flies out from behind a bush. In a split second, your motor system has already reacted to flee the swarm. This is the automatic response - acting before thinking - which helps you to avoid impending doom. At the same time a separate, more thought-out, process of learning happens to avoid reckless berry picking in the future.

To understand how this happens Elsa Fouragnan working at the time in Oxford collaborated with the University of Glasgow to develop a new way to study brain activity.

This method involves using two pieces of equipment simultaneously: an EEG machine which records when brain activity took place and a functional MRI scan to reveal where it occurred.

To successfully record from both pieces of equipment at the same time, the team were able to remove the ‘noise’ introduced by the MR scanner on the EEG - a shortcoming that previously made this problematic.

The team hope that this pioneering technique will offer neurological insights into mental disorders associated with decision making such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The full study - Fouragnan et al., 2015: Two spatiotemporally distinct value systems shape reward-based learning in the human brain

In this fascinating animation Dr Elsa Fouragnan shares more about how we learn and insights from the brain

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Brain Research & Imaging Centre

The Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC), the most advanced multi-modal brain imaging facility in the South West, will provide the sea-change to enhance the quality of our research in human neuroscience.

With seven cutting-edge human research laboratories, BRIC will include an MRI suite with the most advanced 3-Tesla scanner in the region. It will critically advance our enquiry toward the most advanced brain research, improved radiological diagnostics and better patient care.

Find out more about the facility

BRIC building development, December 2020
MPsych Clinical Psychology - image courtesy of Getty Images

Research in the School of Psychology

Plymouth is a centre of excellence in psychological research. In the 2021 Research Excellence Framework assessment, 100% of our research environment and research impact was rated as either world-leading (4*) or internationally excellent (3*), along with 73% of our research outputs (publications). Within Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, the proportion of our research impact rated as 4* or 3* was equal to or higher than institutions such as Nottingham, Aberdeen, Bath, UCL, Cambridge, and York. Overall, we were ranked above Durham and Bath on 4* and 3* research, and were the top rated department in a modern university.
We have a thriving PhD community, with around 80 doctoral students, as well as purpose-built research facilities.
Learn more about the research in the School of Psychology