Integration of Mind and Metabolism

Speaker: Dana Small


Optimal decision making in a changing environment requires evidence accumulation. Typically, this evidence is amassed from the external environment. However, in the case of food intake, which is fundamental to all organisms, it will be argued that evidence must also be accumulated from the internal milieu. In this lecture a revised view of food reinforcement learning will be presented that is based upon the integration of external and internal sources of evidence accumulation. Emerging work from our and other laboratories demonstrates that the critical signals underlying food reinforcement are generated during nutrient metabolism and are conveyed outside of conscious awareness to the brain to modulate dopamine release and support learning. According to this view, conscious oral sensations serve as both outcomes (e.g., the red strawberry is sweet as expected) and predictions (e.g., X amount of sweetness predicts X amount of glucose), enabling the formal integration of conscious and unconscious nutrient sensing.  Further, the system is not singular, but rather multivariate with different sources of energy (e.g., fat vs. glucose) signaling through distinct pathways that can interact to potentiate reinforcement and thereby promote intake variety. These body – brain circuits also adapt overtime time modulating perception in the face of a changing food environment.  Ultimately, optimal decision making can only be achieved by the integration of mind and metabolism.

About the speaker:

Dana Small is a Professor at the Department of Psychiatry of Yale School of Medicine, where she heads the Division of Nutritional Psychiatry. She is also the founder and Director of the Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center (MDPRC).  She received her MSc in Neuroscience in 1997 and her PhD in Clinical Psychology from McGill University in 2001. After completing her doctoral training, she worked as an Assistant Professor in the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine before coming to Yale in 2004, first as an Assistant Professor. Her research focuses on understanding how sensory, metabolic, and neural signals are integrated to determine food choice and on understanding the influence of the internal milieu on higher-order brain functions. Her laboratory employs neuroimaging, neuropsychological, psychophysical and metabolic methodologies in humans.

Time and place:

May 20, 2021, 3:30 p.m. CEST

The talk will be held online. Please access the talk via

Go to Editor View