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Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

Carl R. Olson

Dr. Carl R. Olson, PhD

Professor, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition
Carnegie Mellon University 

Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley (1979)


Researchers in my laboratory study the brain mechanisms of cognition by recording from single neurons in the cerebral cortex of behaving monkeys. Our interests include spatial vision, visual pattern recognition and executive control.

Spatial vision encompasses a host of skills including the ability to see how parts are arranged in an object. Object-centered spatial vision is critical to various human activities including reading, which hinges on appreciating the arrangement of letters in a word. We study the neural underpinnings of object-centered spatial vision by recording from frontal and parietal neurons in monkeys trained to remember and respond to particular locations on objects.

Visual pattern recognition depends critically on inferotemporal cortex (IT), an area in which neurons respond selectively to particular visual images. We study the neural basis of pattern recognition by recording from single IT neurons while monkeys view natural and artificial images. One aim of current work is to determine whether IT neurons rare selective for the global attributes of an image (how the features are arranged in it) or simply to the local attributes (what features are present in it).

Executive control – deciding what to do moment by moment – depends on considering the consequences associated with particular actions and selecting the action that gives rise to the best outcome. We study the neural mechanisms of executive control by recording from neurons in frontal cortex while monkeys choose among actions that will result in different rewards or penalties. Neurons in some areas signal the emotional impact of an anticipated outcome (positive for reward and negative for penalty). Neuronal activity in other areas rises or falls according to how motivated the monkey is (regardless of whether motivation is driven by the promise of a reward or the threat of a penalty). We are interested in working out the neural processing stages by which emotional evaluation of consequences associated with actions gives rise to motivated behavior.

Recent Publications

Meyer, T., Walker, C., Cho, R.Y., and Olson, C.R., 2014, Image familiarity sharpens response dynamics of neurons in inferotemporal cortex. Nature Neuroscience  volume 17, pages 1388–1394 (2014).

Meyer, T., Ramachandran, S., and Olson, C.R., 2014, Statistical learning of serial visual transitions by neurons in monkey inferotemporal cortex, J. Neurosci. 34:9332-9337.

Berdyyeva, T.K., and Olson, C.R., 2014, Intracortical microstimulation of the supplementary eye field impairs the ability of monkeys to make serially ordered saccades. J. Neurophysiol. 111: 1529-1540.

Leathers, M.L., and Olson, C.R., 2012, In monkeys making value-based decisions LIP neurons encode cue salience and not action value, Science 338: 132-135.

Meyer, T., and Olson, C.R., 2011, Statistical learning of visual transitions in monkey inferotemporal cortex, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 108:194301-6.

Berdyyeva, T.K., and Olson, C.R., 2011, Relation of Ordinal Position Signals to the Expectation of Reward and Passage of Time in Four Areas of Macaque Frontal Cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 105:141-159.

Berdyyeva, T.K., and Olson, C.R., 2010, Rank signals in four areas of macaque frontal cortex during selection of actions and objects in serial order. J. Neurophysiol. 104: 141-159.

Sripati, A.P., and Olson, C.R., 2010, Responses to compound objects in monkey inferotemporal cortex: the whole is equal to the sum of the discrete parts. J. Neurosci. 30: 7948-7960.

Sripati, A.P., and Olson, C.R., 2010, Global image dissimilarity in macaque inferotemporal cortex predicts human visual search efficiency. J. Neurosci. 30: 1258-1269.

Sripati, A.P., and Olson, C.R., 2009, Seeing the forest before the trees: A global advantage effect in monkey inferotemporal cortex. J. Neurosci. 29: 7788-7796. PMC 2744217

Berdyyeva, T.K., and Olson, C.R., 2009, Monkey supplementary eye field neurons signal the ordinal position of both actions and objects. J. Neurosci. 21: 591-599. PMC 2761674

McMahon, D.B.T., and Olson, C.R., 2009, Linearly additive shape and color signals in monkey inferotemporal cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 101: 1867-1875. 


Suite 115, Mellon Institute 
4400 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Contact Information

Phone: (412)  268-3968