CFIN affiliated researcher Micah Allen awarded Lundbeck and AIAS Fellowships.
Micah Allen, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University has been awarded joint starting fellowships from the Lundbeck Foundation and Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS). These fellowships will enable Micah Allen to launch his own research lab, the Embodied Computation Group, which will be based at both Aarhus University and Cambridge Psychiatry.
As an Associate Professor at Aarhus University and a visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambridge Psychiatry, he will develop the Embodied Computation Group (ECG) into a multi-disciplinary research group investigating the computational mechanisms of brain-body interaction, and their disruption in a variety of health-harming and psychiatric disorders.
Micah Allen’s research focuses on our gut feelings. His theory is that our decisions are rarely completely rational and we are strongly influenced by gut feelings. He will be investigating whether these gut feelings are actually linked to the signals sent from our inner organs to the brain.
See video of Micah Allen talk about the project:
The two Fellowships are based around The Visceral Mind Project, which aims ultimately to provide a mechanistic basis for understanding brain-body disruption through the lens of computational psychiatry. The project will use a variety of techniques, with an emphasis on computational modelling, machine learning, and causal manipulation of visceral predictions to identify how bodily signals shape decision-making. The project will be regularly sharing updates through a lab notebook, and all data, code, and experimental materials will be made available to the public. The goal is not only to understand brain-body interaction in predictive processing, but to build the first every open database in this newly emerging research domain.
In Denmark, the ECG will be based at the Danish Neuroscience Centre at Aarhus University Hospital, where the group will conduct large-scale neuroimaging of healthy Danes performing a metacognitive learning task, concurrently with quantitative and functional brain imaging. This will enable them to establish how visceral signals from the heart, lungs, and stomach shape the precision-weighted balance of priors and prediction errors in both perceptual and metacognitive beliefs. The project will bring together the latest in fMRI, MEG, and statistical modelling of brain data to answer two key questions: 1) how do visceral signal shape decision computations, and 2) can we use individual differences in the sensitivity to visceral signals as an index of sub-clinical psychiatric symptoms.
At Cambridge Psychiatry and Addenbrookes Hospital, the ECG will use these tasks and models to probe disordered brain-body interaction in a variety of health-harming and psychiatric disorders. Foremost among these are ongoing investigations of healthy young participants undergoing total prophylactic gastrectomy – the surgical removal of the stomach and vagus nerve. PTG patients have a mutation of a specific gene which renders them extremely likely to develop profuse gastric cancer, a highly fatal disease. Because of this, when they undergo the procedure they are on average 25 years old and otherwise completely healthy. As such, they present an unprecedented opportunity to understand what happens to interoception, decision-making, and visceral weighting when the enteric nervous system and brain-body axis is fundamentally disrupted. Additionally, the group will be using similar approaches to investigate the role of visceral weighting in hunger, obesity, and other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and psychosis.
In sum, the Visceral Mind Project represents a stunning opportunity to propel our understanding of how our bodies shape our minds.