October 26, 2023

Studying Decisions and Brain Networks in Bipolar Disorder

Chandra Sripada, M.D., Ph.D. pens an article about his new collaboration with the Prechter Program. 

Chandra Sripada, M.D., Ph.D.

Why do you do all the things that you do, choose to say this rather than that, look here rather than there, move toward something rather than away? It is because you are constantly making decisions to do all these things. We sometimes use the term “decision” to refer to something that unfolds over a long time, like deciding what to study in college. But in the study of the mind and brain, decision refers to rapid choice, which typically takes under a second. Your mind is engaged in these “speeded decisions” constantly.

According to leading models, speeded decisions involve both quick impulses as well as slower “executive” processes that help the person make future-oriented, more adaptive choices. The balance between these processes is likely altered in bipolar disorder. Diminished executive input into speeded decisions contributes to impulsivity, racing thoughts, and mood variability — all hallmarks of the disorder.

To improve diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder, we need to better understand what happens at these speeded decisions, and in particular the brain mechanisms that underpin them. Thus, we are excited to announce that the Sripada Lab, directed by Chandra Sripada, M.D., Ph.D., in collaboration with Melvin McInnis, M.D., director of the Prechter Program, received a five-year NIH R01 grant ($2.6 million) to address these questions.

This project combines two advanced methods: computational modeling and network neuroscience.

To better understand the psychological processes that unfold during speeded decisions, we designed a new battery of behavioral tasks. We then use sophisticated computational models to uncover the hidden internal processes that give rise to participants’ task responses.

To better understand the neural processes that underpin speeded decisions, the study participants also complete a set of tasks during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The human brain is a complex interconnected network that dynamically changes in response to task demands. We will use the methods of network neuroscience to quantify how these brain networks change during speeded decisions.

This work could lead to new objective methods to identify youth at high risk for developing bipolar spectrum disorders. It could also spur the development of interventions, such as cognitive training regimens, that directly target dysfunction in speeded decisions in bipolar disorder.