Patrick Simen

  • Associate Professor of Neuroscience
  • Chair of Neuroscience

Areas of Study


  • ScB, math and AB in philosophy, Brown University, 1993
  • PhD, computer science and engineering, University of Michigan, 2004
  • Postdoctoral research in psychology/neuroscience, Princeton University, 2004-2011


I study how rewards affect human and animal decision-making, and how we keep track of time. The data my students and I collect inform how my lab models decision-making and timing circuits in the brain. We use mathematical and computational models that are as simple as possible, while still achieving enough functionality to account for critical features of behavioral and physiological data.

Our models incorporate a layer of neural control mechanisms for optimizing the performance of the underlying decision-making circuits: that is, they help these circuits maximize rewards during simulated task performance. They generate precise, quantitative hypotheses about choices, response times and brain activity that we test with experiments in human behavior and electroencephalography (EEG).

We also focus theoretically on composing these basic circuits into larger models capable of more complex behavior. Our work in this area provides a possible theoretical link between different levels of description in psychology and neuroscience. At the neural level of description, neurons and neural populations are the objects of study; we use dynamical systems, stochastic processes and "deep learning" neural networks to model them. At the psychological level of description, entities such as percepts, goals and actions are the objects of behavioral investigation; researchers often use symbolic, computational cognitive architectures known as "production systems” to model these. But how do such radically different types of description relate to each other?

To try to answer that question, we model the emergence of the psychological description-level from the neural description-level, by building subsymbolic neural networks that emulate symbolic production systems.

NSCI 201: The Brain: An Introduction to Neuroscience

NSCI 211: Neuroscience Laboratory

NSCI 360: Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience

NSCI 361: Cognitive Neuroscience Research Methods

FYSP 041: Emergence and the Unification of Knowledge

Krueger, P., van Vugt, M., Simen, P., Nystrom, L., Holmes, P. and Cohen, J. D. (2017). Evidence accumulation detected in BOLD signal using slow perceptual decision making. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 281, 1-12.

Simen, P. and Matell, M. (2016). How does time fly when we're having fun? Science, 354, 1231-1232. Perspective article previewing Soares, S., Atallah, B. V. and Paton, J. J. (2016), Midbrain dopamine neurons control judgment of time (2016), Science, 354,1273-1277. 

Srivastava, V., Holmes, P. and Simen, P. (2016). Explicit moments of decision times for single- and double-threshold drift-diffusion processes. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 75, 96-109. 

Balcı, F. and Simen, P. (2016). A decision model of timing. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 8, 94-101.

Simen, P., Vlasov, K.* and Papadakis, S.* (2016). Scale (in)variance in a unified diffusion model of decision making and timing. Psychological Review, 123:151-181.

Spring 2024

Cognitive Neuroscience — NSCI 360
Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory — NSCI 361


Patrick Simen Discusses His Research for 'Space Cave' Podcast

March 31, 2022

Associate Professor of Neuroscience Patrick Simen was on the Space Cave podcast discussing his research for a general audience. 

Patrick Simen Gives Talk in Cognitive Forum Series

October 16, 2018

Associate Professor of Neuroscience Patrick Simen gave a talk "Evidence for continuous, online adaptation of decision biases, geared toward reward maximization" for the Cognitive Forum series in Michigan State University's Psychology Department.

Patrick Simen Gives Talks in Australia

May 28, 2018

Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Patrick Simen spent three weeks in Australia supported by a Powers Travel Grant. There, he visited labs and gave talks at University of Tasmania in Hobart, University of Melbourne, University of New South Wales in Sydney, and University of Newcastle. Simen’s talks focused on the mathematical modeling of perceptual decision making by humans and understanding how the brain incorporates reward information and timing information into simple perceptual decisions.

Patrick Simen Publishes

November 17, 2015

Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Patrick Simen’s article “Scale (In)Variance in a Unified Diffusion Model of Decision Making and Timing” was published in Psychological Review. The article was written with student coauthors Ksenia Vlasov '13 and Samantha Papadakis '15.

The article derives behavioral predictions from a simplified mathematical model of neural activity, and it describes the results of human behavioral experiments carried out by students at Oberlin to test these predictions. Most of the predictions held up, suggesting that timing and perceptual decision making depend on a common process in which neural activity builds up over time at a constant rate.

Patrick Simen Gives Talks in U.K. and Turkey

February 11, 2015

Patrick Simen, assistant professor of neuroscience, recently gave a series of talks in the U.K. and Turkey regarding a mathematical model of neural processing in perceptual decision making and interval timing. In the U.K., Simen spoke at the University of Warwick, the University of Oxford, and the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit of University College London. In Turkey, Simen spoke at Koç University in Istanbul.

Simen's travel was supported by a Powers Travel Grant, the funding from which also gave him an opportunity to spend time with and see the research facilities of his collaborators at the aforementioned institutions.


A Lesson in Computational Modeling

October 29, 2020

“Computational modeling is the future of neuroscience!” raves Rochelle van der Merwe ’21. So when she had the chance to participate in a Carney Center for Computational Brain Science computational modeling workshop at Brown University, she took full advantage of the opportunity.

Pandemic Impact Award Helps Zoe Swann ’19 Continue Research on StartReact Effect

September 9, 2020

After graduating from Oberlin College with high honors in neuroscience and a concentration in linguistics, Zoe Swann ’19 immediately embarked on a PhD program at Arizona State University (ASU), where she began writing a literature review, and started developing a dissertation proposal. Then COVID-19 struck. It brought her research to a screeching halt until her lab was granted a $1,500 Pandemic Impact Award to support research expenses.

EEG and the Cognitive Sciences

February 20, 2019

Electroencephalogram is used in a variety of ways in the cognitive sciences to examine the structures and processes that underlie a creature’s ability to think and reason.