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Yinan Cao

B.Eng (Tsinghua); M.A (McGill); Clarendon Scholar

Human Information Processing (Summerfield Lab)

Neural and computational mechanisms underlying learning and flexible behavior

I am a postdoc with Prof. Chris Summerfield and Dr. Andrew Saxe. Learning about the structures of the world facilitates good decisions and actions in novel environment sharing those structures. My postdoc research investigates the neural and computational mechanisms of structure learning and inference in humans, using neuroimaging, computational models, and other tools such as neural networks. At the same time, I am starting to work under Dr. Konstantinos Tsetsos on his ERC project of multi-attribute decision-making.

I did my D.Phil. at Oxford. I was supervised by Prof. Chris Summerfield, Prof. Christoph Kayser (Bielefeld, Germany) and Prof. Charles Spence. My D.Phil. was funded by the Clarendon Scholarship.

My D.Phil. research centered on "causal structure" inference (is there one common cause or two separate causes?) and reconciling previous different computational accounts of multisensory decision-making, by combining some hardcore psychophysics, behavior models and MEG. How does the brain arbitrate between the expediency of fusing multimodal signals (for better precision) and the imperative to perform causal structure inference (for lower bias) in service of optimal behavior? My work provides a  novel plausible theory that bridges the frontal cortex functions, adaptive behavior and multisensory computations at distinct timescales. In one study along this line (, we show that distinct computational strategies are orchestrated in temporal sequence and along a cerebral hierarchy to guide flexible behavior.

Key publications

Recent publications

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  • Clarendon Scholarship, Oxford University (2015-8)
  • NSERC-Create Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Graduate Fellowship (2013-4)
  • CIRMMT Research Exchange Fellowship (2013)
  • Graduate Excellence Fellowship, McGill University (2011-3)
  • Award for Academic Excellence, Tsinghua University (2007, 8, 9, 10)