A New Perspective on the Relationship Between Brain and Behavior

May 16, 2017, 2:00pm – 3:00pm EDT
Henry Yin, Ph.D.
Henry Yin, Ph.D.

Henry Yin, Ph.D.

Henry Yin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Duke University


Recent advances in neuroscience led to the development of a new integrative approach combining continuous quantification of behavior and selective manipulation and recording of neural activity in freely moving rodents. Recent work using this approach in my lab has yielded new insights on the relationship between neural activity and behavior. I shall summarize key results on the outputs from the basal ganglia, a set of subcortical nuclei that are critical for volitional behavior. These results suggest that the basal ganglia function as analog computing circuits, and that the relationship between neural activity and the relevant continuous behavioral variables is highly linear. These observations, which contradict textbook models of basal ganglia function as well as many traditional assumptions in neuroscience, can be explained by a hierarchical control model using multiple layers of closed loop control systems. This model has important and surprising implications for our understanding of how the brain generates behavior.


Henry Yin received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he worked with Barbara Knowlton and Bernard Balleine on the role of the basal ganglia in learning and habit formation. As a postdoctoral fellow in David Lovinger’s lab at the NIH, he studied the mechanisms underlying striatal synaptic transmission and plasticity. He is currently associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, a faculty member of the Neurobiology Graduate Training Program, and a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles on basal ganglia function.