Michael Shadlen

My commitment: Revealing the causes of cognitive disorders like schizophrenia and dementia

I started my career as a doctor, working with patients suffering from confusion—an inability to integrate individual bits of information and piece them together into a complete picture. Currently, if a patient comes in with signs of confusion, we don't know what it is about the normal brain that lets us not be confused. So I turned to research to fill in some of the gaps in what we knew about the brain.

In my work in the lab, I study the brain’s parietal cortex, since damage to this area of the brain often impedes higher brain functions like knowing what objects are for, understanding numbers, and planning action. These higher brain functions make a normal brain not confused: able to reason, prioritize, infer causes and consequences, assign authorship to one’s own thoughts, explore, avoid distractions, and engage with the environment.

My hypothesis is that in 10 years, we will recognize that many disorders of higher brain function have a common failure mode. The ultimate payoff will come when we take these insights and combine them with molecular developments to devise therapies that preserve or replace key brain functions.