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Guillem Esber, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Psychology

Guillem Esber, Ph.D.


Guillem Esber received his graduate training in the laboratory of John M. Pearce (Cardiff University, UK), where his work focused on testing different computational models of selective learning at the behavioral level using rats and pigeons. An upshot of his graduate work was the development of an attentional theory of associative learning that reconciles 30 years of conflicting data (Esber & Haselgrove, 2011). He then challenged himself to elucidate the neural mechanisms of basic associative learning processes and pursued postdoctoral training in the behavioral neuroscience laboratories of Peter C. Holland (Johns Hopkins University) and Geoffrey Schoenbaum at (NIDA IRP). In 2015 he became Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, where he established the Brooklyn Neurobiology of Learning Lab. In the Fall of 2022, he joined the Department of Psychology at Concordia University at the rank of Associate Professor. 

Research activities

My research investigates the neural substrates of associative learning at the systems neuroscience level using rats as a model system, and more recently, through a collaboration, in humans. I focus on associative learning processes because they form building blocks of cognition, and provide us with an analytically tractable tool to study all sorts of key topics in Psychology, from craving to rule inference. My overarching questions are how neural circuits encode information during learning and how this information is later retrieved to guide decision-making. To address these questions, I monitor neural dynamics during behavior and interrogate neural circuits while rats learn to associate various experimentally manipulated events. Major long-term goals of my research program are 1) to develop testable neurobiological models that can account for individual differences in learning and behavior, 2) to identify the behavioural and neural mechanisms underlying learning-related risk factors for maladaptive behaviors, and 3) to develop novel pharmacological and behavioral therapeutic interventions and preventative treatments.



Alvarez, MR, Alarcon, JM, Roman, CA, Lazaro, D, Bobrowski-Khoury, N, Baena-Caldas, GP, & Esber, GR (2022). Can a basic solution activate the inflammatory reflex? A review of potential mechanisms, opportunities, and challenges. Pharmacological Research. 2022 Oct 28:106525.

Márquez I, Loewinger G, Vargas JP, López JC, Díaz E, Esber GR. Surprise-induced enhancements in the associability of Pavlovian cues facilitate learning across behavior systems. Behav Neurosci. 2022 Aug;136(4):285-292. doi: 10.1037/bne0000505. Epub 2022 Feb 17. PubMed PMID: 35175064; NIHMSID:NIHMS1825158.

Kang M, Reverte I, Volz S, Kaufman K, Fevola S, Matarazzo A, Alhazmi FH, Marquez I, Iordanova MD, Esber GR. Agency rescues competition for credit assignment among predictive cues from adverse learning conditions. Sci Rep. 2021 Aug 10;11(1):16187. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-95541-2. PMID: 34376741; PMCID: PMC8355250.

Lay BP, Pitaru AA, Boulianne N, Esber GR, Iordanova MD. Different methods of fear reduction are supported by distinct cortical substrates.  Elife. 2020 Jun 26;9. doi: 10.7554/eLife.55294. PuMed PMID: 32589138; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7343386.

Reverte I, Volz S, Alhazmi FH, Kang M, Kaufman K, Chan S, Jou C, Iordanova MD, Esber GR. A self-initiated cue-reward learning procedure for neural recording in rodents. J Neurosci Methods. 2020 May 15;338:108671. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2020.108671. PubMed PMID: 32135212.

Lay BPP, Nicolosi M, Usypchuk AA, Esber GR, Iordanova MD. Dissociation of appetitive overexpectation and extinction in the infralimbic cortex. Cereb Cortex. 2019 Aug 14;29(9):3687-3701. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy248. PubMed PMID: 30371757.

Mahmud A, Petrov P, Esber GR, Iordanova MD. The serial blocking effect: a testbed for the neural mechanisms of temporal-difference learning. Sci Rep. 2019 Apr 12;9(1):5962. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-42244-4. PubMed PMID: 30979910.

Iordanova MD, Deroche ML, Esber GR, Schoenbaum G. Neural correlates of two different types of extinction learning in the amygdala central nucleus. Nat Commun. 2016 Aug 17;7:12330. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12330. PubMed PMID: 27531638.

Chang CY, Esber GR, Marrero-Garcia Y, Yau HJ, Bonci A, Schoenbaum G. Brief optogenetic inhibition of dopamine neurons mimics endogenous negative reward prediction errors. Nat Neurosci. 2016 Jan;19(1):111-6. doi: 10.1038/nn.4191. PubMed PMID: 26642092.

Esber GR, Torres-Tristani K, Holland PC. Amygdalo-striatal interaction in the enhancement of stimulus salience in associative learning. Behav Neurosci. 2015 Apr;129(2):87-95. doi: 10.1037/bne0000041.  PubMed PMID: 25730120.

Esber GR, Holland PC. The basolateral amygdala is necessary for negative prediction errors to enhance cue salience, but not to produce conditioned inhibition. Eur J Neurosci. 2014 Nov;40(9):3328-37. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12695. PubMed PMID: 25135841.

McDannald MA, Esber GR, Wegener MA, Wied HM, Liu TL, Stalnaker TA, Jones JL, Trageser J, Schoenbaum G. Orbitofrontal neurons acquire responses to 'valueless' Pavlovian cues during unblocking. Elife. 2014 Jul 18;3:e02653. doi: 10.7554/eLife.02653. PubMed PMID: 25037263.

Schoenbaum G, Esber GR, Iordanova MD. Dopamine signals mimic reward prediction errors. Nat Neurosci. 2013 Jul;16(7):777-9. doi: 10.1038/nn.3448. PubMed PMID: 23799468.

Ogawa M, van der Meer MA, Esber GR, Cerri DH, Stalnaker TA, Schoenbaum G. Risk-responsive orbitofrontal neurons track acquired salience. Neuron. 2013 Jan 23;77(2):251-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.11.006. PubMed PMID: 23352162.

Esber GR, Roesch MR, Bali S, Trageser J, Bissonette GB, Puche AC, Holland PC, Schoenbaum G. Attention-related Pearce-Kaye-Hall signals in basolateral amygdala require the midbrain dopaminergic system. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Dec 15;72(12):1012-9. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.05.023.  PubMed PMID: 22763185.

Jones JL, Esber GR, McDannald MA, Gruber AJ, Hernandez A, Mirenzi A, Schoenbaum G. Orbitofrontal cortex supports behavior and learning using inferred but not cached values. Science. 2012 Nov 16;338(6109):953-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1227489. PubMed PMID: 23162000.

Roesch MR, Esber GR, Bryden DW, Cerri DH, Haney ZR, Schoenbaum G. Normal aging alters learning and attention-related teaching signals in basolateral amygdala. J Neurosci. 2012 Sep 19;32(38):13137-44. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2393-12.2012. PubMed PMID: 22993430.

Le Pelley ME, Haselgrove M, Esber GR. Modeling attention in associative learning: two processes or one?. Learn Behav. 2012 Sep;40(3):292-304. doi: 10.3758/s13420-012-0084-4. PubMed PMID: 22927002.

Roesch MR, Esber GR, Li J, Daw ND, Schoenbaum G. Surprise! Neural correlates of Pearce-Hall and Rescorla-Wagner coexist within the brain. Eur J Neurosci. 2012 Apr;35(7):1190-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07986.x. PubMed PMID: 22487047.

Pearce JM, Dopson JC, Haselgrove M, Esber GR. The fate of redundant cues during blocking and a simple discrimination. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2012 Apr;38(2):167-79. doi: 10.1037/a0027662. PubMed PMID: 22486755.

Dopson JC, Esber GR, Pearce JM. Changes in attention to an irrelevant cue that accompanies a negative patterning [corrected] discrimination. Learn Behav. 2011 Dec;39(4):336-49. doi: 10.3758/s13420-011-0029-3. PubMed PMID: 21499985.

Esber GR, Haselgrove M. Reconciling the influence of predictiveness and uncertainty on stimulus salience: a model of attention in associative learning. Proc Roy Soc, Biol Sci. 2011 Sep 7;278(1718):2553-61. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0836. PubMed PMID: 21653585.

Dopson JC, Williams NA, Esber GR, Pearce JM. Stimuli that signal the absence of reinforcement are paid more attention than are irrelevant stimuli. Learn Behav. 2010 Nov;38(4):337-47. doi: 10.3758/LB.38.4.337. PubMed PMID: 21048225.

Haselgrove M, Esber GR, Pearce JM, Jones PM. Two kinds of attention in Pavlovian conditioning: evidence for a hybrid model of learning. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2010 Oct;36(4):456-70. doi: 10.1037/a0018528. PubMed PMID: 20718552.

Roesch MR, Calu DJ, Esber GR, Schoenbaum G. All that glitters ... dissociating attention and outcome expectancy from prediction errors signals. J Neurophysiol. 2010 Aug;104(2):587-95. doi: 10.1152/jn.00173.2010. Epub 2010 Jun 16. PubMed PMID: 20554849.

Dopson JC, Esber GR, Pearce JM. Differences in the associability of relevant and irrelevant stimuli. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2010 Apr;36(2):258-67. doi: 10.1037/a0016588. PubMed PMID: 20384405.

Schoenbaum G, Esber GR. How do you (estimate you will) like them apples? Integration as a defining trait of orbitofrontal function. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2010 Apr;20(2):205-11. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2010.01.009. Epub 2010 Mar 4.  PubMed PMID: 20206497.

Roesch MR, Calu DJ, Esber GR, Schoenbaum G. Neural correlates of variations in event processing during learning in basolateral amygdala. J Neurosci. 2010 Feb 17;30(7):2464-71. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5781-09.2010. PubMed PMID: 20164330.

Esber GR, Pearce JM, Haselgrove M. Enhancement of responding to A after A /AX training: challenges for a comparator theory of learning. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2009 Oct;35(4):485-97. doi: 10.1037/a0014908. PubMed PMID: 19839701.

McGregor A, Horne MR, Esber GR, Pearce JM. Absence of overshadowing between a landmark and geometric cues in a distinctively shaped environment: a test of Miller and Shettleworth (2007). J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2009 Jul;35(3):357-70. doi: 10.1037/a0014536. PubMed PMID: 19594281.

Pearce JM, Esber GR, George DN, Haselgrove M. The nature of discrimination learning in pigeons. Learn Behav. 2008 Aug;36(3):188-99. doi: 10.3758/lb.36.3.188. PubMed PMID: 18683464.

Esber GR, McGregor A, Good MA, Hayward A, Pearce JM. Transfer of spatial behaviour controlled by a landmark array with a distinctive shape. Q J Exp Psychol B. 2005 Jan;58(1):69-91. doi: 10.1080/02724990444000069. PubMed PMID: 15844379.

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