Michael Halassa’s research is focused on the neural basis of cognitive control and flexibility, particularly in attention and decision-making. At a party, for example, it may be possible to talk to one person, but selectively listen to a different conversation happening nearby. It is this ability to switch our attention with agility that Halassa studies in his lab.
He has developed behavioral models of cognitive function in mice, allowing him to probe the underlying neural circuits and computations using behaviorial analysis, electrophysiology, and genetics. His work has revealed a new role for the thalamus – once considered a simple relay station for sensory information – in initiating, sustaining and switching cognitive representations. He also studies how attention and cognitive flexibility are disrupted in disorders including schizophrenia, autism, and ADHD.