Dr. Read is accepting students for the 2023 academic year through the Social Psychology area, the Brain and Cognitive Sciences area, and the Quantitative Methods and Computational Psychology area.

Neurobiological Bases of Risky Decision-making

A central focus of our work is on understanding the Neurobiological Bases of Risky Decision-making. A recent project was an imaging study of the neurobiological biases of risky sexual decision-making in Men who have sex with Men. We compared groups of sexually risky and non-risky men as they performed a number of tasks in the scanner, including a risky dating game. In a series of papers we have studied the role of different brain regions in different aspects of risky decision-making.

We are currently using the results of our fMRI studies of risky decision-making to build Neural Network models of the neural circuitry involved in risky decision-making

Computational Modeling of Motivation, Personality, and Social Reasoning

We have recently completed an NIGMS funded grant on computational modeling of motivation, personality and risky decision-making. The project attempts to build a neurobiologically based model of the major components involved in risky decision-making.

Recently we have begun to investigate how this computational model can be used to better understand the role of the reward system (ventral and dorsal striatal, dopamine based systems) in the initiation and maintenance of substance abuse, and in depression.

We are also working to develop a neural network model of personality, based on work on temperament, the Big Five, and the neurobiology of motivation.

With Dan Simon, of the USC Law School, and Doug Stenstrom of CSLA, I am working on connectionist models of Legal and Everyday Decision Making.

Examples and code for various neural network models we have created can be found at: 



Depression, substance use, and social anxiety

We have recently started to do research on the role of the dopaminergic, ventral striatal (nucleus accumbens) based reward system in depression, social anxiety and substance.  In addition to our empirical work, we are also working on further developing a neural network model that can be used to provide a model of each of these.

Coherence-based Models of Decision-Making

Over the last 10 years Dan Simon and I have collaborated on a series of studies testing a coherence-based model of decision making based on parallel constraint satisfaction processes in neural networks. We have investigated decision-making and judgment in both legal and everyday contexts. In our earlier work we focused on cold cognition. More recently we have worked on a series of studies examining the impact of emotion and motivation on coherence-based decision-making.

We are also interested in extending the work on Coherence to understanding the nature of people's belief systems about such things as climate change and vaccination.  

Interactive Environments and Health

Over the last 15 or more years, Lynn Miller, Paul Robert Appleby, and I have worked on a series of interactive environments designed to change risky sexual behaviors in men who have sex with men.

In the mid 1990s we developed an interactive CD that successfully reduced risky sexual behavior in MSM.

Following that, we developed a NIAID funded interactive DVD that was also successful in changing risky sexual behavior in MSM. An online version of this interactive DVD can be found at: Virtual Sex Project

Recently, we finished the construction of a game designed to change risky sexual behavior. The game has been investigated in a national, randomized control trial and has been shown to successfully change risky-behavior at a 6 month follow-up.

  • Stephen J. Read
  • Mendel B. Silberberg Professor of Social Psychology
  • Department of Psychology
  • 501 SGM
  • University of Southern California
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 90089-1061