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Experience-Dependent Plasticity

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Sam Cooke

My research interests are learning and memory. Storage of memory in a retrievable form is critical for well-being and survival. Attainment of reward, avoidance of punishment, execution of skill and social interaction all require these processes. Disturbances resulting from ageing or disease drastically impact quality of life, making learning and memory important processes to understand. In particular, I work on an understudied form of learning known as habituation, the memory of familiarity that arises and the detection of novelty that it enables. These processes are highly conserved across species, reflecting their fundamental role in cognition. Habituation to stimuli that signal neither reward nor punishment enables energy and attention to be assigned to stimuli that bear greater significance. It is essential both to humans, in which deficits characterize developmental psychiatric disorders, and to mice, in which the broadest range of experimental techniques can be applied to gain insight into underlying mechanism. Understanding how the brain mediates habituation, familiarity and novelty detection is likely to provide general insight into learning and memory and cognitive dysfunction that results from psychiatric disorder and dementia.

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