Joni Wallis received her Hellman Fellowship in 2004, two years after starting her tenure at UC Berkeley in the Department of Psychology. She used her award to lead a small study on how dopamine, a brain chemical known to be involved in addiction, impacted neural signals in the prefrontal cortex and influenced individual decision-making.
When this research did not yield results for further study, she moved away from investigating brain chemicals and towards studying brain rhythms — subsequently receiving a large grant that founded the Wallis Lab. She and her team continue to build scientific understanding about the neuronal mechanisms underlying high level cognitive and behavioral processes such as learning and working memory. Their overarching goal is to develop cutting-edge neuroscience techniques to treat neuropsychiatric disorders that involve impaired decision-making, such as addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.