Patricia studies the psychological and biological basis underlying how children and adults learn from reward and punishment. She also studies how this changes across the lifespan, and in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Patricia uses methods including experimental tasks, brain imaging, computational modelling, patient studies and developmental studies. She draws on theories from animal learning and decision neuroscience to capture how, when, and why people learn and make choices that have consequences for themselves and other people.
Patricia comments; “I am really pleased that my research has been recognised by the Jacobs Foundation. This fellowship will support important research into how we learn the consequences of our choices, in the classroom and beyond. A failure in learning is linked to poor educational outcomes, reduced employment, and altered mental health. However, there are great differences between children in their learning ability that may arise due to interlinked social, economic, and biological factors. Previous research has often measured these factors in isolation and never tested them using the most sophisticated tools to assess young people’s speed of learning. Using big data, brain imaging, measures of individual differences and mathematical modelling, I plan to examine ‘learning rates’ – how quickly children learn associations between their choices and outcomes, to identify the factors that drive learning across development.
In the first line of research, I will analyse pre-existing data from a multisite, Europe-wide database of youths who completed a learning task to test the social and economic factors that predict individual differences in learning rates. In the second line of research, I plan to link these differences in learning rates and social functioning to brain structure and function.”
The Jacobs Foundation Research Fellowship Program is a globally competitive fellowship program for early and mid-career researchers whose work is dedicated to improving the development, learning, and living conditions of children and youth.