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The View of Cognition from Motor Cortex

Aaron Batista


The primary motor cortex (M1) is responsible for controlling arm movements in primates. Far from being simply a motor command center, it also bears signatures of a range of higher-order cognitive processes. In this talk I will present evidence that M1 holds memories of motor skills, and that M1 is influenced by internal states such as motivation and arousal. These signals are well-organized at a population level, although they are mixed at the level of individual neurons. This organization means that in some cases internal cognitive states can be insulated from behavior, and in other cases, they impact behavior. One benefit of a fuller understanding of the primary motor cortex will be improvements in the design of clinical brain-computer interface systems.


I majored in Computer Science and Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. At the time I was there, Cognitive Science was in its heyday. When I learned that people were pursuing the neural basis of cognition using nonhuman primates, that was all I wanted to do. I went to Caltech for graduate school, where I studied motor planning signals in the parietal cortex. This was right when brain-computer interfaces were becoming a realistic prospect. For my postdoc, I went to Stanford, where I first worked with Bill Newsome and collaborated with Greg Horwitz. We studied the cognitive aspects of decision-making. I then worked with Krishna Shenoy, studying sensory-motor integration, and using what we learned to help build better brain-computer interfaces. In 2007 I joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Bioengineering and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.
Aaron Batista Headshot
Aaron Batista
University of Pittsburgh
ECE 125
10 May 2022, 10:30am until 11:30am