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Liya Ma




Liya Ma

  • B.Sc. Hons. - Psychology (Carleton)

Department: Psychiatry
Program: Ph.D.

Email: mariapsy@interchange.ubc.ca
Lab Phone: 604-822-1765
Lab Alt: 604-822-7716

Research Description:

In broad terms, my interests lie in the neurobiology of learning, memory and motivation, using both behavioral and electrophysiological methods in rodent models.

Currently I am studying the neural mechanisms underlying the transition from a goal-guided action (in animal research often modeled with operant conditioning procedures) to a stimulus-elicited habit. In order to distinguish the two forms of association, the sensitivity to a change in the value of the outcome is estimated based on the change in the animal's response rate. Just as many other types of memories, some forms of long-lasting synaptic plasticity, specifically at the corticostriatal synapses, is likely to underlie the establishment of habit. Additionally, as the course of instrumental learning progresses, the dynamic behavior of the phasic dopamine input probably plays an important role that is yet to be identified.

As an adaptive cognitive function, the formation of normal habits help promote efficiency by reducing working memory load. However, in pathological behaviors such as compulsive drug-taking, such mechanisms may become hijacked by abnormally strong associations, causing the premature omission of the the evaluation of the outcome. This line of research will shed light on the intricate relationships between the phenomena of normal habit, compulsivity and impulsivity in humans and animals alike, leading to potential remedies to abnormal memory associations and pathological motivational states.


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