Associate Professor (Director, Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience)

Contact Information

Office:  E7 6328 / PAS 4039
Phone: 519-888-4567 x43056
Email: britt@uwaterloo.caBritt Anderson photograph
Webpage: Britt Anderson's website

Appointed to Psychology in Cognitive Neuroscience


PhD, Brown University (2006)
MD, University of Southern California (1984)
BS, University of Arizona (1980)


Led by the work demonstrating that a lot of what is called attention can be more directly accounted for in terms of stimulus probabilities, I have become (writing in 2021) pre-occupied with how it is we represent uncertainty. It is relatively easy to say that our degrees of belief are simply probabilities, but that can't be entirely right for a lot of reasons. We seem to have beliefs about events that have never happened and never could happen. That is why people can argue about counter-factual alternate histories. And even for more common circumstances the events we are making decisions for are non-repeatable. Deciding to have a first date with person X is not something you can model based on frequencies. But you do decide, and you have feelings that are stronger or weaker about whether it is a good idea. In all the Bayesian and similar accounts of decision making under uncertainty that are on offer to account for these types of decisions there are probability distributions embedded. Do we think those distributions (or some simplification) are generic or are they rather modality and situationally specific? How do we compare the similarity and differences of distributions when deciding if things have changed? Measuring belief is a tricky technical issue, and I do work on that, but also the lab tries to think more conceptually about what this space of representation for uncertainty looks like and what are the calculi for comparison. How can they be instantiated in neural hardware?

You can't read papers with all these different kinds of models without wondering in what fundamental ways they are different. The language may imply that two approaches are very similar (or very different), but the wording used to describe can be a long way from the mathematics that underlies them and both may not be reflected in the code written to simulate them. How can we do a better job of communicating our models and theories formally? What is the right language to facilitate comparisons and contrasts? I am a new enthusiast to applied category theory and am looking for my first opportunity to use it in some meaningful way. As probability theory can be developed from a category theory perspective (in contrast to the traditional measure theoretic one) I am hopeful there may be a way to braid these two strings together (there is a pun in there for any category theorists that find their way here).

University of Waterloo

Profiles by type

Brain Day 2023 Videos On-line

The videos from Brain Day 2023 are now available on line at our youtube channel. Hope you enjoy.

CTN Masters Student Graduate Sugandha Sharma Appears on Generally Intelligent Podcast

Sugandha Sharma, masters student graduate of the University of Waterloo's CTN, discusses her research and time in the laboratory of CTN Founding Director Chris Eliasmith as well as her current PhD research at MIT on the Generally Intelligent Podcast. Give it a listen.

Sue Ann Campbell Presents at International Conference on Mathematical Neurosci 2022

Sue Ann Campbell (Applied Math/CTN core member) recently presented "Modulation of Synchronization by a Slowly Varying Current"  in July 2022 at the International Conference on Mathematical Neuroscience; Watch it on YouTubesue ann campbell presentation image of spikes

CTN Research Day 2023 Oct 17 16:30 - 19:00 QNC 0101

The Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience will be hosting its second Research Day. This will be a chance to start the new academic year by getting re-acquainted with each other and the diversity of research conducted by CTN core and affiliate faculty. The format will be to have a number of CTN faculty share short overviews of their lab's and projects (16:30-17:30) and then, following a short coffee break (17:30-18:00), hear from a dozen current graduate students and post-docs giving short three minute talks on an aspect of their current research (18:00-19:00).

Bots and Beasts. New book by CTN Founding Member Paul Thagard

Paul Thagard, philosopher, cognitive scientist, Killam prize winner, and founding CTN member has a new book out: Bots and Beasts. bots and beasts book cover