Neurobiological basis of response selection

A daily scene when biking from downtown Utrecht to “De Uithof” campus: behind you a car is honking, in front of and next to you many other students are making their way to the campus by bike just like you, and you have to give way to a bus coming from the right. After you managed to survive that, the traffic light in front of you, still green, might turn red any moment. At the same time, your mobile phone is ringing in your pocket, and you are grabbing it to answer a possibly important call. This situation is not uncommon, and most of us are well able to deal with this overload of sensory information and make the right choices for action almost in an instant. It is amazing how well our brain is able to weigh all this information and schedule our behavior such that the outcome is optimal. This system is affected, however, in several neuropsychiatric conditions, and decision making deficits are commonplace and can lead to serious problems in daily life.

This course will outline the massive response selection problem we face at almost every moment, how our central nervous system deals with it, and what function is thought to be affected in several neuropsychiatric diseases affecting this system. Topics will include motor behavior, neural control circuits in animals and humans, response selection mechanisms at a molecular level. Related topics exceeding the motor domain will also be covered, as response selection networks in motor control are mirrored in the neural control of decision making, reasoning, attention and emotion. Each day is organized around a topic and includes a lab visit and also a Journal Club where students present a recent paper on the topic of that day.

The lecturers are well-known researchers in their respective subdomains and will give presentations overviewing their fields as well as present ongoing research into open questions. The methods that are used will be explained and include single neuron recording in behaving animals, functional and structural neuroimaging in humans performing response selection tasks, detailed investigations of overt response selection behavior, and molecular investigations on the synaptic level. This course is prepared and organized by researchers from Utrecht University and UMC Medical center in cooperation with Vanderbilt University, Nashville (TN), USA, and includes lecturers from all 3 institutes.

Chairs: Bas Neggers, Stefan van der Stigchel

Intended for: Neuroscience & Cognition Utrecht MSc students. Course credit: 1.5 ECTS. 

Registration: to register, send an email to with your student number and affiliated Masters programme. Maximum number of students: 40. Admission is at first-come, first serve basis.


UMC Utrecht


Dr. S.F.W. Neggers (Chair)
Dr. Matthijs Vink
Dr. K. Thakkar

Utrecht University

Experimental Psychology:    

Dr. Stefan van der Stigchel (Chair)
Dr. D.J.L.G. Schutter
Drs. Rudmer Menger
Prof. Dr. H.C. Dijkerman

Dept. of Animals in Science and Society/Division of Behavioural Neuroscience
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Prof. Dr. L. Vanderschuren
Marcia Spoelder
Peter Hesseling

Guest lecturers 

Prof. Dr. JD. Schall  (Vanderbilt University, Nashville (TN), USA)
Dr. B.B. Zandbelt (Vanderbilt University, Nashville (TN), USA)
Dr. Birte Forstmann (University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

Course Programme

(check here for last minute changes!)

11 APRIL:introduction & behavioral   Location: HVDB - 4.33

9.30   Introduction into response selection mechanisms (Bas Neggers & Stefan van der Stigchel)
10.00 Attention, eye movements and selection (Stefan van der Stigchel)
11.00 Reaching and grasping: the mechanisms underlying response selection in arm movements (Rudmer Menger)
12.00 Lunch
13.00 Disorders in selection: an overview (Chris Dijkerman)
14.00 Lab visit @Van der Stigchel
15.00 Assignments for journal club (to be held at april 15 and 17)

12 APRIL: neural control circuits in man and monkey  Location: HVDB - 4.33

10.00 Computational modeling of response inhibition (Bram Zandbelt)
11.00 The neural control of movement selection in monkeys (Jeff Schall)
12.00 Lunch
13.00 Controlling and monitoring actions in healthy individuals and neuropsychiatric conditions (Katy Thakkar)
14.00 Functional and structural neuroimaging of the motor control network in humans (Bas Neggers)
15.00 Break
16.15 RMI Lecture Jeff Schall: "Neurons, Circuits, Decisions and Actions" (public event), Yellow Lecture Hall, Stratenum

24 APRIL (was 15 april): behavioral neuroscience  Location: UMCU "Vissekom" - B01.228 (psychiatry, near Divisiebureau) 

10.00 Journal Club (2 presentations)
11.00 Animal models of decision making (Marcia Spoelder)
11.50 Lunch
12.40 Decision making deficits in drug addiction (Louk Vanderschuren)
14.20 Journal club (1 presentation)
14.50 Break
15.00 visit Vanderschuren-lab (Marcia Spoelder, Peter Hesseling)

16 APRIL: self study of relevant papers

17 APRIL: motivation, reward, neuroeconomics: decision making   Location: HVDB - 4.43

9.00 Stopping prepared responses: neural control of inhibition in neuropsychiatric disorders (Matthijs Vink)
10.00 Emotional regulation and response selection: flight or fight? (Dennis Schutter)
11.00 Strategic decision making processes in the brain (Birte Forstmann)
12.00 Lunch
13.00 Journal club (Paper presentation by students)
15.30 Drinks!

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