BA (Hons) (Sydney), PhD (Cantab), FRSN, FAPA



Psychology
2021

Bernard Balleine is a psychologist and behavioural neuroscientist. The overarching aim of his research is to understand the neural bases of decision-making. He is also interested in disorders in decision-making induced by psychopathology associated with dementia, other neurodegenerative disorders, psychiatric conditions, stress and addiction to guide the preclinical development of therapies that ameliorate these deficits.

Decision-making is a complex capacity through which we learn about and choose between competing courses of action based on their relationship to, and the reward value of, their specific consequences. As such, this capacity is heavily dependent on the interaction of the systems that mediate cognitive and emotional functions. Within this field, Balleine’s research has focused on establishing the psychological and neural determinants of action control, particularly those contributing to decision-making involving goal-directed as opposed to reflexive or habitual actions.

With the members of his laboratory, Balleine has discovered important features of these forms of action control at various levels of analysis, from the psychological and neural systems mediating specific functional capacities to the cellular circuits and intracellular signaling processes involved in specific neuronal plasticity and the cellular changes that support them. His lab was the first to reveal the importance of the cortical-basal ganglia network, involving medial prefrontal cortex and its connections with the dorsomedial striatum, in the acquisition and updating of goal-directed actions. He showed that the dorsal striatum is functionally heterogeneous with goal-directed actions encoded in dorsomedial striatum and habitual actions in dorsolateral striatum under the control of their distinct cortical inputs. In addition, he has revealed the nature and neural bases of the reward and reinforcement processes that support goal-directed and habitual actions, respectively, as well as the essential memory processes necessary for predictive learning to modulate choice between actions.

These findings have proven influential. Balleine’s lab is recognized as one of the leading laboratories in the world studying the neural bases of decision-making. The general approach and the specific procedures that he and his laboratory have pioneered to study this capacity have been instrumental to the continuing expansion of this area, generating translational research projects that cross between humans to other animals. This systematic research program has had a profound influence within psychology and neuroscience as well as on computational theories of adaptive behaviour, research programs involving neuroimaging in humans, and models of human psychopathology and addiction.

Scientia Professor, UNSW

1987

University Medal, University of Sydney

Australian Psychological Society Prize

Thomson Prize for Psychology Honours

1989

Research Scholarship, Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Commission

Elected College Scholar, Churchill College, Cambridge.

1992   Elected Research Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge.

1997   FIRST Award – National Institute of Mental Health

1987

University Medal, University of Sydney

Australian Psychological Society Prize

Thomson Prize for Psychology Honours

1989

Research Scholarship, Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Commission

Elected College Scholar, Churchill College, Cambridge.

1992   Elected Research Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge.

1997   FIRST Award – National Institute of Mental Health

2003   Elected Fellow of the American Psychological Association

2008   Pavlovian Research Award, The Pavlovian Society

2009   Laureate Fellowship, Australian Research Council

2015   Senior Principal Research Fellow, National Health & Medical Research Council

2017   Paxinos Prize, Australasian Neuroscience Society

2020   Senior Investigator Award, National Health & Medical Research Council

2020   Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales

  1. Balleine, B.W. (2019). The meaning of behavior: Discriminating reflex and volition in the brain. Neuron, Oct 9;104(1):47-62. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.09.024.
  2. Bradfield, L.A., Leung, B.K., Bolt, S. & Balleine B.W. (2020). Goal-directed actions transiently depend on dorsal hippocampus. Nature Neuroscience, doi:10.1038/s41593-020-0693-8.
  3. Fisher, S.D., Ferguson, L.A., Bertran-Gonzalez, J. & Balleine, B.W. (2020). Amygdala-cortical control of striatal plasticity drives the acquisition of goal-directed action. Current Biology, Sep 24: S0960-9822(20)31280-X. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.08.090.
  4. Peak J, Chieng BC, Hart G, Balleine BW. (2020). Striatal direct and indirect pathway neurons differentially control the encoding and updating of goal-directed learning. eLife 2020;9: e58544. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.58544.
  5. Balleine BW, Peak J, Matamales M, Bertran-Gonzalez J, Hart G. (2021). The dorsomedial striatum: An optimal cellular environment for encoding and updating goal-directed learning. Current Opinion in Behavioural Sciences, 41, 38–44. Doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2021.03.004