Read Montague

Read Montague, Ph.D.

Inaugural Holder, Virginia Tech Carilion Vernon Mountcastle Research Professorship

Director, Human Neuroimaging Laboratory, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Director, Computational Psychiatry Unit, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute

Professor, Department of Physics, College of Science, Virginia Tech

Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

Read Montague is a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and a professor of physics at Virginia Tech’s College of Science. His efforts are devoted to leading programs in human neuroimaging and the new field of computational psychiatry.

Montague is a pioneer in the integration of theoretical and computational approaches with experimental neurobiological approaches to the study of how information is processed within the central nervous system. He has applied his command of mathematics and computational modeling to derive novel insights to understand how individual nerve cells form networks that can compute the value of rewards and make decisions. That is, how a group of individual neurons can lead to cognition and behavior, both in the normal brain and in a variety of disorders.

Montague’s approach has led to important new insights into how people interpret and value decisions and acts by others, plan for the future, and interact. Deficiencies in these processes in the human brain manifest in such conditions as autism spectrum disorder, personality disorders, and addiction and substance abuse. His work has been widely recognized by the scientific and medical communities as providing some of the most significant new insights into mechanisms of human brain dysfunction in a variety of diseases.

In addition, Montague has invented a new way to functionally image multiple human brains as the individuals interact. This approach—called hyperscanning—allows for the functional linkage of brain scanners between local sites and throughout the United States and the world.

Montague pioneered the field of computational psychiatry, which joins the latest technological advances with neuroscience, economics, and the behavioral sciences to understand the neural computations involved in human cognition and psychiatric illness.

This burgeoning field of computational psychiatry seeks to use the brain’s own neural computations to provide clues to a range of psychiatric disorders, to enable early and definitive diagnoses, and to guide treatments.

“By helping psychiatry achieve diagnostic and therapeutic precision, we hope to improve treatment outcomes and help combat the stigmatization of mental illness,” said Montague.

As part of this work, Montague directs the Roanoke Brain Study, a project aimed at elucidating decision-making throughout the human lifespan, especially as it affects brain development, function, and disease. Dr. Montague expects the Roanoke Brain Study to become the neurological equivalent of another community-based, longitudinal study—the Framingham Heart Study, which, since 1948, has provided much of what we now know about cardiovascular health.

Montague’s innovation is allowing researchers to precisely measure the microscopic changes in human brain activity and the influence of one brain on another. It has added a whole new dimension to evaluate how the human brain processes information about others and makes decisions - major components of human behavior that are targeted by neuropsychiatric disorders. The development of this approach is giving scientists new opportunities and potential targets for the development of diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for early diagnosis of psychiatric disease in a precise way.

Montague earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Auburn University and a doctorate in biophysics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He then served as an Institute Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology at the Rockefeller University in New York in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman, followed by serving as a fellow and staff scientist in the computational neurobiology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California.

Montague then joined the neuroscience faculty at Baylor College of Medicine, where he was the Brown Foundation Professor of Neuroscience and a professor of psychiatry in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science. While there, he also founded the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit, the first of its kind in the world.

Montague is a professor at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London and was a member of the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University in 2005–06.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Montague delivered a TEDGlobal talk on computational psychiatry in 2012.