Bernd Figner  
Research Scientist. Center for the Decision Sciences. Columbia University.
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My research interests are in developmental decision neuroscience and neuroeconomics. In my studies, I try to provide psychological and neural process-level explanations of human performance on sophisticated behavioral decision-making tasks (some of my own design), by employing techniques such as brain imaging, brain stimulation, assessment of genetic polymorphisms, and recording of physiological measures such as electrodermal and cardiovascular activity. Content-wise, most of my work has focused on risky decision making and intertemporal choice, with some work on moral and ethical decisions and social decision making. Of particular interest to me are the respective roles of affective and deliberative processes in such choices, as well as the mechanisms by which self-control and episodic memory influence the construction of values and preference and choice itself. I often study decision-making and its neural underpinnings with a developmental lifespan perspective, and thus examine the behavioral, psychological, and neural changes that occur during the transition from childhood to adolescence, during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and changes that occur from early to late adulthood.

In my research on risky decision making, I compare risk taking and its underlying information use in children, adolescents and adults. My main tool for this research is a novel computer-based decision-making task that I developed after diagnosing the shortcomings of existing measures. This task, the Columbia Card Task (CCT), allows the study of dynamic risk taking and underlying information use, in both a ‘hot’ affect-based and a ‘cold’ deliberative version. It is at the core of several of my collaborative studies and is increasingly used by other researchers. Together with Elke Weber, BJ Casey, and Mauricio Delgado I currently study the neural substrate of these processes as well as developmental changes across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in an fMRI study. In a related line of research, I am investigating the neural underpinnings of intertemporal choice, with a focus on the roles of self-control and episodic-memory processes in the construction of subjective value and preference and their downstream effects on choices between immediate versus delayed rewards.

In my research, I combine different methodologies in order to increase convergent validity and generalizability of the results. I use classical behavioral-experimental methods, assessment of physiological processes (BOLD in fMRI, electrodermal and cardiovascular activity), brain stimulation techniques (transcranial magnetic stimulation), and genotyping. I also strive to extend this research beyond the typical university campus population by using Internet methods to collect data from more heterogeneous populations. The overarching aim of my work is to develop a better understanding of decision-making processes with the goal of deriving implications for intervention/optimization strategies, both with respect to the basic processes in healthy individuals and with respect to maladaptive instances of impulsive decision making, such as adolescent risk-taking behaviors, substance use, and pathological gambling.

Download our Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2009 paper on the CCT and our Current Directions in Psychological Science 2011 paper describing our more recent CCT versions.
For more information on the CCT – including information about our internet-based online version –, please visit the official CCT website and the CDS website.

Download our Nature Neuroscience paper on the role of the lateral PFC in self-control during intertemporal choice.

Write to me if you are interested in using the CCT in your own studies! We have both internet and offline versions of our "hot" affective and "cold" deliberative versions. I'll be happy to send you links to internet demo versions, so you can try them out. Or try them out via our official CCT website.