2018 Pilot Grants

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2019 Grant Competition now Open

The Scientific Research Network on Decision Neuroscience and Aging will award 2-3 grants up to $30,000 in 2019 to junior researchers or senior researchers new to the area. The proposed research must focus directly on adult development and aging or on life course decisions that improve health and well being in old age.

The grants will be awarded to help provide researchers new to the area with resources for data collection, task development, and/or to add an older adult sample to a current/planned study focused on young adults. The overall goal is to provide the initial resources to support a larger grant application, so make clear your future grant writing plans in the application. Priority will be given to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior faculty especially those from underrepresented groups in science. Senior researchers new to the area will also be considered. Evaluation criteria include the combination of theories and methods from at least two disciplines, methods that facilitate data sharing and overall transparency, a comprehensive research team with expertise in all relevant disciplines, and a focus on life course decisions that improve health and well being in old age. The budget should be entirely or almost entirely allocated to data collection and not salary support. Individuals are not eligible if they have received a major grant from the NIA focused on aging and decision making in the past 3 years (although trainees who have advisors with recent/current NIA grants are eligible). Applicants do not have to be US citizens but have to be at a US institution.

Please submit a 3-page proposal (single-spaced in the style of the Research Strategy section of an NIH grant), a 1-page line-item budget (e.g., 30 90-minute scans @ $550/hr = $24,750, 30 subjects payments @ $100 = $3000), and NIH biosketches for all key personnel as a single PDF document via email to funding@srndna.org. The max $30,000 budget limit is direct costs; the budget should indicate the F&A (indirect cost) rate that your institution has negotiated with NIH for 2019. Note that we may have more flexibility to fund less expensive studies (e.g., $5,000) for projects in earlier stages of development or for individuals who need quick pilot data for a grant application. Questions regarding this grant competition can be directed to funding@srndna.org..

The application deadline is March 1, 2019

Proposals will be reviewed by a small group of anonymous network affiliates and scored following NIH/CSR guidelines. Applications scored in the top 50% will receive complete scores and comments using NIH score sheets. We expect funding decisions will be made by May 2019.


Current & Previous Grants

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Do Age Differences in Associative Learning and Stimulus Generalization Lead to Age Differences in Trust?

Brittany Cassidy (UNC Greensboro psychology), Kendra Seaman (Duke Center on aging), Jessica Cooper (Emory psychology)

Individualized behavioral, neural, and computational markers for altered latent state representations across healthy aging

Linda Yu (brown neuroscience), Matthew Nassar (brown neuroscience), Benjamin Eppinger (Concordia Loyola psychology)

Age-related changes in memory-based choices and its neural basis

Zhihao Zhang (UC Berkeley Marketing), Winston Chiong (UCSF Neurology), Andrew Kayser (UCSF Neurology), Ming Hsu (UC Berkeley Marketing)


Social Reward and Aging: Identifying the Neural Underpinnings of Peer Influences


Interactions of Motivational Incentives and Cognitive Control in Older Adult Decision-Making


Effects of Episodic Memory Retrieval on Intertemporal Choice in Cognitively Normal Older Adults




Feedback-based learning in aging: Specific contributions of striatal and hippocampal systems

Nichole Lighthall (Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University), Roberto Cabeza (Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University), Scott Huettel (Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University), John Pearson (Postdoctoral Associate, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University).
Award Dates: 9/1/14 – 3/30/15

Summary: Learning plays a central role in decision making across the life span, and appears to mediate age differences in specific decision making domains including risk taking. These age differences may result from decline in brain regions that represent feedback-based learning signals. The striatum is commonly implicated in feedback-based learning, but a growing number of studies indicate that feedback learning is also dependent on the hippocampus. Age-related change to these brain regions may explain age differences in feedback-based learning and decision making, as the striatum and hippocampus both decline in normal aging. However, age differences may be more pronounced with greater reliance on the hippocampus, as behavioral research strongly suggests greater decline in hippocampal versus striatal functions. The proposed study will investigate age differences in striatal- and hippocampal-supported feedback learning using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The study will utilize a feedback-based learning task that includes different levels of delay between choice and outcome. A recent fMRI experiment with younger adults, found that adding a delay between choice and outcome resulted in a shift in learning signals from the striatum to the hippocampus.Our research will expand on these findings in two ways. First, by directly comparing neural correlates of feedback-based learning in younger and older adults. And second, by adding post-learning behavioral tasks that will shed light on the relationship between learning signals in the brain and decision outcomes. Specifically, the current study will determine whether neural correlates of feedback-based learning predict inter-individual differences in cue preferences, accuracy of explicit outcome-probability estimates, and choice behavior (willingness-to-pay).

The role of oxytocin in prosocial decision making in aging across humans and monkeys

Steve Chang (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Yale University), Natalie Ebner (Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Florida).
Award Dates: 9/1/14 – 3/30/15

In social environments, humans are routinely faced with decisions concerning self and others that directly determine the nature of their social interactions. The nine-amino acid neuropeptide OT has been proposed to centrally mediate various social processes, such as pair-bonding in monogamous voles, social memory formation in mice, prosocial behavior in monkeys, mother-infant affiliation in humans, as well as modulate more complex behaviors such as trust formation in humans. Across species, it is important to note that although most OT-mediated behaviors are categorically prosocial, OT sometimes controls neural signals that trigger antisocial actions as well depending on individuals, gender, and social contexts. Thus, it is critical to view the peptide as a neuromodulator either amplifying or attenuating neural circuit operations primed by context-specific factors. Recently, we have shown that increasing OT level in the brain via OT inhalation (confirmed by cerebrospinal fluid draws) enhances both prosocial decision preference as well as self reinforcement in rhesus macaques depending on decision context. In this proposal, we will extend our paradigm to examine the neuroendocrinological basis of prosocial decision making in aging. Critically, we will apply a parallel platform across humans and monkeys to establish a new cross-species collaboration aimed at supplementing our understanding of the neural basis of decision making across the adult lifespan with the strength of neurobiological investigations in animals.



Oxytocin and Social Decision Making in Aging

Natalie Ebner (Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Florida), Ronald Cohen (Professor of Aging and Geriatric Research, University of Florida), David Feifel (Professor, Department of Psychiatry, UCSD)
Award Dates: 8/1/13 – 7/31/14

Determining whether an unfamiliar person is trustworthy and approachable are crucial decisions humans routinely face in their social environments. Older compared to young adults show increased interpersonal trust, rendering them more susceptible to trusting ill-intending people and scams, seriously compromising emotional and physical health and social life. This age-related increase in trust may be due to older adults’ decreased ability to accurately read other people’s social and emotional cues; it may also be due to age-related alterations in brain function associated with trust-related decision making and/or specific peptides/hormones that directly affect prosociality. The neuropeptide oxytocin has been shown to elevate interpersonal trust. However, nothing is known about age-related changes in the oxytocin system in the context of trust-related decision making. The proposed study adopts a neuroendocrine and socio-behavioral approach to determine the effects of oxytocin on decisions of trust in financial as well as health contexts in aging. Following a standardized, double-blind procedure, participants self-administer synthetic oxytocin (or placebo) intra-nasally before engaging in an economic trust game, a food trust game, and a facial trustworthiness task, while undergoing fMRI. This project brings together a team with expertise in aging, neuroscience, and psychopharmacology. It constitutes an example of best practice in combining multiple methodologies offering different levels of analysis on the phenomenon of interest in a conceptually-driven manner. The findings will advance basic science in clarifying neuroendocrine and behavioral relationships in the context of trust and decision making in aging. In addition, information gained from this project will have the potential to inform interventions targeted at social and emotional dysfunction in the elderly with the long-term goal to help older adults make better decisions in social contexts and reduce social stress and anxiety.

Acute Stress and Age-Related Differences in Reward Processing and Executive Function

Anthony Porcelli (Assistant Professor of Psychology, Marquette University; Assistant Adjunct Professor of the CTSI, Medical College of Wisconsin), Kristy Nielson (Professor of Psychology, Marquette University; Associate Adjunct Professor of Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin), April Harkins (Assistant Professor in Clinical Lab Science, Marquette University).
Award Dates: 8/1/13 – 7/31/14

Summary: In part due to advances in modern medicine, people are living longer than ever before. Aging is associated with cognitive declines across functional domains, at the extreme end converting to dementia or neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Even “healthy aging” can be associated with declines in memory and executive functioning (EF). Large individual differences in cognitive decline in the aged population indicates that risk factors exist, which implies they can be delineated and used to predict cognitive decline and to develop early interventions. One such factor may be exposure to stress. While much research has been conducted on the effects of stress and age on memory and certain aspects of EF, decision-making is only beginning to be examined in this context. The purpose of the proposed study is to examine the influence of aging and stress on decision-making via an essential decision-related faculty – reward processing (RP). Aged and young adult participants will complete a comprehensive battery of neurocognitive assessments as well as series of testing tools designed to evaluate decision-making on multiple levels. After exposure to an acute stressor or a no stress control procedure, participants will engage in a series of EF and RP tasks while undergoing fMRI scanning. Measurements of neuroendocrine (e.g., cortisol and alpha-amylase) and peripheral physiological (e.g., skin conductance and heart rate variability) correlates of the stress response will also be acquired. Our interdisciplinary approach represents the combined effort of researchers with expertise in neuroscience, aging, executive function, and neuroendocrinology. Findings resulting from the proposed research may provide new insights into early indicators of cognitive decline associated with age and exposure to stress, possibly suggesting directions for developing and implementing early interventions.



Neural Mechanisms of Value-Directed Remembering in Younger and Older Adults

Michael Cohen (PhD student in Psychology; UCLA), Alan Castel (Assistant Professor of Cognitive Psychology; UCLA), Jesse Rissman (Assistant Professor of Cognitive Psychology; UCLA), Barbara Knowlton (Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience; UCLA), Aimee Drolet (Professor of Marketing; UCLA)
Award dates: 2/1/12 – 10/1/13

The ability to use memory effectively requires one to focus on more important to-be-remembered information at the expense of less important information. Previous studies (e.g., Castel et al., 2002) have shown that, at least in certain contexts, older adults are able to successfully prioritize the encoding of valuable information. For example, when faced with the task of learning a set of words that have varied point values assigned to them, older adults, while typically recalling fewer overall words than young adults, actually tend to be closer than young adults to achieving the optimal point total given the number of items that they do recall. Such data indicate that healthy older adults are able to successfully implement the strategies necessary to direct their limited cognitive resources towards remembering those things that are most important. Still, relatively little is known about the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie the ways in which high-value items are processed differently from less valuable items, particularly in healthy older adults. Our proposed fMRI study seeks to adapt Castel et al.’s behavioral paradigm to characterize neural correlates of value-directed remembering in young and older adults. Finally, to provide a stronger connection between our laboratory measure of value-incentivized remembering and real-world economic outcomes, we plan to relate individual differences in selectivity on the word memory task with more traditional measures of economic decision-making.

Financial Decision Making at Retirement

Vinod Venkatraman (Assistant Professor of Marketing; Temple University), John Payne (Professor of Business, Law, and Psychology; Duke University)
Award dates: 2/1/12 – 7/31/13

This project examines complex decisions like annuities and ducumulation of retirement investments in older adults using a multi-methodological approach that involves behavioral, eye tracking, and neuroscience experiments. A major emphasis will be on the development and validation of decision-making tasks that represent the complexities of real-world decisions and yet are suitable for experimentation using all three methodologies. This research will be carried out in two phases: an exploratory phase where we will design and validate complex decision-making tasks that are suitable for laboratory evaluation using eye-tracking and fMRI and in phase 2, we will obtain pilot data about the effects of aging on decision preferences in this task.



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Pilot Grant FAQ

Q: Do I have to route this proposal at my institution like a normal federal grant?
A: Please do not do that. It creates an unnecessary paperwork/email burden for us. The pilot grant review can be viewed as a pre-review of a potential subward application. You will not be sending us a formal grant application; it's essentially a 3-page idea. Just email the proposal to us directly. (Warning: Your institution may be annoying and require you to route it internally anyway.)

Q: If I already have a similar federally-funded project on aging, am I eligible for a pilot grant?
A: No, but your trainees may be eligible as long as they propose a project that is mostly independent from your existing grant.

Q: Do I have to be an "aging researcher" to be eligible for these grants?
A: No, but you do need to have someone with aging expertise as a core member of your team who is involved in study design and data analysis.

Q: Is the budget limit total costs or just direct costs?
A: The limit is for direct costs, but please indicate your F&A/indirect rate in the budget proposal.

Q: How are the funds disbursed?
A: If you are selected for funding, we will issue a subaward to your institution on our NIA grant. You will get full details about this if you are selected.