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Michael Pecka

From sensory circuits to decisions: Active sensing during natural behavior

Understanding how specific behaviors arise from neural processing is a primary goal of neuroscience. However, current techniques often require minimalistic experimental conditions, which in turn limit their ecological / real-life relevance. Crucially, behaviors and the underlying neural processes evolved and adapted to a species’ ethological demands. Thus, a deep understanding of brain functions requires studying the brain "in natural action", i.e., during ethologically relevant behaviors.

Active sensing, i.e., voluntary self-motion to gather information about the resulting changes in sensory inputs, represents a fundamental element of such behaviors. Accordingly, my lab developed a new behavioral paradigm (named SIT – Sensory Island Task, Ferreiro et al., 2020) to study how the brain selectively processes sensory information of interest during active exploration of – and orientation in – the environment. SIT is particularly suited for studying sensory-based navigation and decision-making, but allows studying numerous aspects of naturalistic behavior during chronic brain recordings & neural modulations. Lately we also developed SIT to study human perception and navigation (Ferreiro et al., 2022). Find out more at