John Pearson

John Pearson

Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics

External Address: 
Levine Science Research Center, B255, Durham, NC 27710
Internal Office Address: 
Duke Box 90999, Durham, NC 27708


My research focuses on the application of machine learning methods to the analysis of brain data and behavior. I have a special interest in the neurobiology of reward and decision-making, particularly issues surrounding foraging, impulsivity, and self-control. More generally, I am interested in computational principles underlying brain organization at the mesoscale, and work in my lab studies phenomena that range from complex social behaviors to coding principles of the retina.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Princeton University 2004

  • B.S., University of Kentucky, Lexington 1999

Selected Grants

Neurobiology Training Program awarded by National Institutes of Health (Mentor). 2019 to 2024

Neurocomputational Approaches to Emotion Representation awarded by National Institutes of Health (Co Investigator). 2020 to 2024

Receptive field coordination across mosaics of diverse retinal ganglion cell types in the mammalian retina awarded by National Institutes of Health (Co Investigator). 2020 to 2024

Corticostriatal contributions to motor exploration and reinforcement awarded by National Institutes of Health (Co-Principal Investigator). 2020 to 2023

Quantitative Methods for HIV/AIDS Research awarded by National Institutes of Health (Training Faculty). 2018 to 2023

Real-time, all-optical interrogation of neural microcircuitry in the pretectum awarded by National Institutes of Health (Co-Principal Investigator). 2020 to 2022

Adaptive Algorithms for Automated Circuit Dissection awarded by The Swartz Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2020 to 2021

Computational Modeling of Decision Making by Prosecutors and Jurors in Criminal Justice awarded by National Science Foundation (Co Investigator). 2017 to 2021

Neural Circuit Mechanisms Mediating TMS and Oxytocin Effects on Social Cognition awarded by University of Pennsylvania (Principal Investigator). 2016 to 2021


Chang, S. W. C., et al. “Neuroethology of primate social behavior.” In the Light of Evolution, vol. 7, 2014, pp. 115–34. Scopus, doi:10.17226/18573. Full Text

Addicott, Merideth A., et al. “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and the explore/exploit trade-off.Neuropsychopharmacology, Oct. 2020. Pubmed, doi:10.1038/s41386-020-00881-8. Full Text

Mohl, Jeff T., et al. “Monkeys and humans implement causal inference to simultaneously localize auditory and visual stimuli.J Neurophysiol, vol. 124, no. 3, Sept. 2020, pp. 715–27. Pubmed, doi:10.1152/jn.00046.2020. Full Text

McDonald, Kelsey R., et al. “Dorsolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex track distinct properties of dynamic social behavior.Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, vol. 15, no. 4, June 2020, pp. 383–93. Pubmed, doi:10.1093/scan/nsaa053. Full Text

Goffinet, Jack, et al. Inferring low-dimensional latent descriptions of animal vocalizations. Oct. 2019. Epmc, doi:10.1101/811661. Full Text

McDonald, K. R., and J. M. Pearson. “Cognitive bots and algorithmic humans: toward a shared understanding of social intelligence.” Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, vol. 29, Oct. 2019, pp. 55–62. Scopus, doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.04.013. Full Text

McDonald, Kelsey R., et al. “Bayesian nonparametric models characterize instantaneous strategies in a competitive dynamic game.Nat Commun, vol. 10, no. 1, Apr. 2019, p. 1808. Pubmed, doi:10.1038/s41467-019-09789-4. Full Text

Iqbal, Shariq N., et al. “Latent goal models for dynamic strategic interaction.Plos Comput Biol, vol. 15, no. 3, Mar. 2019, p. e1006895. Pubmed, doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006895. Full Text

Pearson, John M., et al. “Modelling the effects of crime type and evidence on judgments about guilt.Nat Hum Behav, vol. 2, no. 11, Nov. 2018, pp. 856–66. Open Access Copy

Lighthall, Nichole R., et al. “Feedback-Based Learning in Aging: Contributions and Trajectories of Change in Striatal and Hippocampal Systems.J Neurosci, vol. 38, no. 39, Sept. 2018, pp. 8453–62. Pubmed, doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0769-18.2018. Full Text