Ann Harvey, PhD
Research Scientist, VTC Research Institute
Director, Roanoke Brain Study
Description of work
I am a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. My duties include conducting research as well as coordinating the Roanoke Brain Study. The RBS is a longitudinal research project designed to study the types of decisions people make every day using a combination of neuroimaging, genetics, and behavior. The Roanoke Brain Study is directed by Read Montague, and will include other leading scientists at the VTCRI. I will be coordinating the scientific, communications, and daily operations of the study.
As a scientist in Read Montague’s group at the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, I participate in research on human decision-making and cognition. Our group uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study neural responses while individuals participate in a variety of cognitive tasks. My research is focused on human decision-making, and in particular how cultural messages (ideas, narratives, brands, social gestures) influence those decisions. Recently, we examined how a social gesture such as a monetary favor can induce bias in preferences for art, with corresponding changes in brain regions known to respond to valuable stimuli across multiple domains (money, food, beautiful faces, art, etc).
The influence of cultural messages is ubiquitous and powerful. They may be simple influences such as a brand label biasing which item you purchase in the store. But cultural messages have a nefarious side as well; influential narratives become so valuable in the brain of a terrorist that they allow that individual to deny strong survival instincts to commit unspeakable acts of terror. In order for cultural messages to influence decision behavior, the brain must be able to assign value to these abstract concepts just as it assigns value to food and water. We are exploring the neural mechanisms that assign value to these messages to gain insight into how they commandeer behavior.
Education and Training
- Baylor College of Medicine: Ph.D., Neuroscience
- Northwestern University: B.S., Biomedical Engineering
Postdoctoral fellow, Baylor College of Medicine
- Harvey, AH, Kirk, U, Denfield, GH, Montague, PR. (2010). Monetary favors and their influence on neural responses and revealed preference. J. Neurosci, 30:9597-602.