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Decision and Emotion

Research team

We build computational models for mood and behaviour that help us understand psychiatric disorders.

What is happiness? We are interested in describing the factors that determine subjective affective states like happiness. We build computational models linking affective states to ongoing experience and quantitatively relating feelings and behaviour. We use neuroimaging, pharmacology, electrophysiology, and smartphone-based data collection to study the relationship between decision making and emotion across the lifespan and in people with psychiatric disorders like depression.

Ongoing studies

Computational models of affective experience

We find that happiness depends not on how well you are doing, but whether you are doing better than expected. Happiness relates to neural activity in dopamine projection areas and can be manipulated pharmacologically with dopaminergic drugs. We are extending this quantitative understanding of happiness to multiple dimensions relevant to mood disorders including effort, intrinsic reward, future prospects, environmental volatility, confidence, and altruistic behaviour.

Neuromodulatory influences on decision making and mood

We consistently find that dopamine plays a valence-dependent but value-independent role in reward seeking. We are testing how dopaminergic and serotonergic drugs influence mood and behaviour across multiple tasks. Through collaboration at Yale University, we are evaluating how ketamine, a rapid glutamatergic antidepressant, influences mood dynamics during decision tasks. We will test whether mood effects due to serotonergic antidepressants gradually accumulate while ketamine effects are immediate. We will test whether mood dynamics predict later depressive symptoms.

Smartphone-based data collection in mood disorders

We co-developed The Great Brain Experiment, a smartphone app for cognitive science research with over 130,000 users. We remotely tested over 500 individuals with a history of depression, finding that model parameters relate to depression severity. We are building a new app, The Happiness Project, for longitudinal testing. Through collaboration at the National Institute of Mental Health, we are testing 150 adolescents with anxiety and depression to ask how model parameters relate to symptoms over months. We will also test patients with bipolar disorder to test whether a computational parameter for the influence of mood on learning is elevated and can predict future manic and depressive episodes.


Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research

Principal Investigator

Robb Rutledge 


Bastien Blain

Research Fellow

Liam Mason

Research Fellow

Ritwik Niyogi

Research Fellow

Matilde Vaghi

Research Fellow

Rachel Bedder

PhD Student

Benjamin Chew

PhD Student

Akshay Nair

PhD Student

Yuki Shimura

PhD Student

Suzanne Buss

Lab Manager

Research areas