Dr. Daeyeol Lee made unique scientific contributions to our understanding of the prefrontal cortex whose functions previously remained mostly unknown. It is extremely challenging to study how the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex ultimately translates to choices, because this relationship is complex and multi-dimensional. Dr. Lee is a leading scholar in the field of neuroeconomics where he has combined the tools from multiple disciplines, such as economics, psychology, and neuroscience to solve this mystery.
Our daily lives are continuous streams of choices from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep. Big or small, these decision-making processes and their underlying brain mechanisms have long belonged to the world of wonder and speculation, but this has begun to change thanks to the scientific advances that are abolishing the barriers between traditional disciplines.
Dr. Lee has employed economic theories of decision making, such as the game theory, in his behavioral and neurophysiological experiments in non-human primates and identified networks of neurons in the prefrontal cortex specialized in various components of decision making. During his experiments, Dr. Lee and his collaborators would signal to the animal specific aspects of choices and potential outcomes by displaying abstract visual stimuli on a computer screen while advancing small electrodes to various compartments of the animal’s brain. Analyzing the precise patterns of activity recorded from those neurons and their relationship to the animal’s behavior led to novel insights into the mechanisms of decision making at the level of individual neurons, which is difficult to examine with conventional non-invasive neuroimaging methods.
Through the research, he has discovered previously unknown types of neurons specialized in strategic decision making, delayed gratification, and regrets. These findings paved the way to future advances in cognitive and behavioral sciences. His creative research will play an important role in developing new therapies for many psychiatric illnesses, such as autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder, that remain difficult to cure.