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Timothy Verstynen - Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA, US

Timothy Verstynen

Associate Professor | Carnegie Mellon University


Timothy Verstynen's research focuses on how our brains allow us to explore our environments and learn from experience.


Timothy Verstynen's research focuses on how our brains allow us to explore our environments and learn from experience, with the goal of translating these findings from neuroscience to artificial intelligence. He is an expert in multiple neuroimaging methods, psychophysics, computational modeling, and experimental design. He has experience running startups (co-founder of NeuroScouting LLC), writing popular science books (Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?), press appearances (featured in the Fastball documentary), as well as building and running neuroimaging centers (as co-director of the CMU-Pitt Brain Imaging Data Generation & Education (BRIDGE) Center).

Areas of Expertise (4)

Cognitive Neuroscience

Cognitive Science


Learning Science

Media Appearances (5)

High-profile paper that used AI to identify suicide risk from brain scans retracted for flawed methods

Retraction Watch  online


“It was a big, splashy finding,” said Timothy Verstynen, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the research. But at a neuroimaging conference soon after the publication, other researchers discussed the study “in kind of a sense of disbelief,” he said.

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The Real Face of Cancel Culture

Inside Higher Ed  online


Criticism is not canceling, and the victim narrative is particularly pernicious in light of attacks on academics and teachers at home and abroad, Timothy Verstynen writes.

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How nutritious are brains? Scientific answers on how zombies operate

The Washington Post  online


Why is that? Perhaps because they’ve lost function in key parts of their rapidly decaying brains, said Carnegie Mellon cognitive neuroscientist Timothy Verstynen, co-author of “Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?”

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'Fastball' Documentary Explores Classic Showdown Between Pitcher And Batter

NPR  online


TIMOTHY VERSTYNEN: The pitcher is pushing the limits of how fast a ball can go. And that limit is coming close to the limit of how fast a hitter can make a decision. And so you have these two extremes of human performance doing this kind of dance right at the edge of where their biology is constraining them.

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New Book Explores the Zombie Brain

Scientific American  online


The wait has been long, but the discipline of neuroscience has finally delivered a full-length treatment of the zombie phenomenon. In their book, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?, scientists Timothy Verstynen and Bradley Voytek cover just about everything you might want to know about the brains of the undead. It's all good fun, and if you learn some serious neuroscience along the way, well, that's fine with them, too. Voytek answered questions from contributing editor Gareth Cook.

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Timothy Verstynen Publication




Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? | Tim Verstynen | Talks at Google Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? | Tim Verstynen | Talks at Google BrainHub Interview: Tim Verstynen



Industry Expertise (1)


Accomplishments (2)

WEF Young Scientist (professional)


NSF CAREER Award (professional)


Education (2)

University of California at Berkeley: Ph.D., Brain & Behavior 2006

University of New Mexico: B.A., Psychology 2001

Articles (5)

Overfitting to ‘predict’suicidal ideation

Nature Human Behaviour

2023 Unlike many areas of medicine, the fields of psychiatry and clinical psychology suffer from a critical lack of ability to directly measure the internal processes that are the root of most psychiatric disorders 1. Instead, these fields rely on indirect assessments, via verbal report or behavioural analyses, that can often be unreliable indicators of internal thoughts and experiences.

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Competing neural representations of choice shape evidence accumulation in humans


2022 Changing your mind requires shifting the way streams of information lead to a decision. Using in silico experiments we show how the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamic (CBGT) circuits can feasibly implement shifts in the evidence accumulation process. When action contingencies change, dopaminergic plasticity redirects the balance of power, both within and between action representations, to divert the flow of evidence from one option to another.

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Identifying control ensembles for information processing within the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamic circuit

PLOS Computational Biology

2022 In situations featuring uncertainty about action-reward contingencies, mammals can flexibly adopt strategies for decision-making that are tuned in response to environmental changes. Although the cortico-basal ganglia thalamic (CBGT) network has been identified as contributing to the decision-making process, it features a complex synaptic architecture, comprised of multiple feed-forward, reciprocal, and feedback pathways, that complicate efforts to elucidate the roles of specific CBGT populations in the process by which evidence is accumulated and influences behavior.

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Multivariate Brain Activity while Viewing and Reappraising Affective Scenes Does Not Predict the Multiyear Progression of Preclinical Atherosclerosis in Otherwise Healthy Midlife Adults

Affective Science

2022 Cognitive reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that is postulated to reduce risk for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly the risk due to negative affect. At present, however, the brain systems and vascular pathways that may link reappraisal to CVD risk remain unclear. This study thus tested whether brain activity evoked by using reappraisal to reduce negative affect would predict the multiyear progression of a vascular marker of preclinical atherosclerosis and CVD risk: carotid artery intima-media thickness (CA-IMT).

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D2 dopamine receptor expression, sensitivity to rewards, and reinforcement learning in a complex value-based decision-making task


2022 In the basal ganglia, different dopamine subtypes have opposing dynamics at post-synaptic receptors, with the ratio of D1 to D2 receptors determining the relative sensitivity to gains and losses, respectively, during value-based learning. This effective sensitivity to reward feedback interacts with phasic dopamine levels to determine the effectiveness of learning, particularly in dynamic feedback situations where frequency and magnitude of rewards need to be integrated over time to make optimal decisions.

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