Combining behavioral studies of normal cognition, computational modeling, and neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies, to understand the role of the prefrontal cortex in human thinking
Keith J. Holyoak conducts research in human reasoning and problem solving. Much of his work is concerned with the role of analogy in thinking. One of the major themes of this work is the way in which analogy serves as a psychological mechanism for learning and transfer of knowledge. In his book Mental Leaps with Paul Thagard, he presents a general theory of analogical thinking that includes analysis of how the capacity to use analogy evolved in primates, how it develops in children, and how it is used to reason in domains ranging from law and politics to science. Other related reserach, in collaboration with Dan Simon, deals with complex decision-making in fields such as the law. Holyoaks research combines studies of thinking in normal adults with neuropsychological studies of how thinking in brain-damaged individuals. This work, in collaboration with Barbara Knowlton and others, is investigating the role of prefrontal cortex in complex human reasoning. In addition to experimental work, Holyoak works with John Hummel to develop computational models of human thinking based on neural-network models. These models use neural synchrony to preform dynamic variable binding, and thereby represent and maniputlate symbolic knowledge. The overall goal is to understand the neural basis for human thought.