Brain & Cognition Lab Research

The illusion that we apprehend the external world completely and immediately as it unravels over time is almost unshakable. Yet, decades of empirical research teach us that our perception is highly limited, with at most a handful of items coming to occupy our mind and guide our actions at any given moment. When all works well, our perception is proactively and selectively focused on currently relevant events to guide adaptive behaviour. These privileged percepts, extracted from countless other possibilities, provide the footing for our thoughts, decisions, and memories. Over time, these percepts weave our psychological attitudes and wellbeing.

In the Brain & Cognition Lab, we are interested in how our goals, motivations, expectations, memories, and emotions guide and shape our perception and cognition. These lines of enquiry are associated with the field of selective attention. Understanding the continual, proactive and selective regulation of perception is of fundamental scientific interest for understanding the workings and quality of human cognition, and also has numerous important ramifications for clinical practise, education, information technology, communication, sports, and various other work settings.

We investigate the cognitive and neural bases of these large-scale dynamic regulatory mechanisms in healthy human volunteers, chart their development through the lifespan, and probe how they break down in psychological, psychiatric, and neurodegenerative disorders. Our methodological approach involves designing original and bespoke tasks to ask new questions about fundamental mechanisms of attention and using multiple non-invasive methods to obtain converging findings. Psychophysical and cognitive tasks serve to characterise behavioural mechanisms, hemodynamic-based imaging (fMRI) to define functional neural networks, magneto- and electro-encephalography (M/EEG) to track dynamics of neural modulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to investigate the causal involvement of brain areas. Many questions require combining methods. For example, simultaneous TMS and EEG is used test the causal influence of brain regions on ongoing neural processes.

Core funding for research in the lab comes from various sources – UK and internationally based charities (notably the Wellcome Trust and the James S McDonnell Foundation), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and the European Commission (EC). Postdoctoral researchers, doctoral students, and visitors to the lab are also highly successful in securing fellowships and studentships, current sources including the British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, Marie Curie Fellowship, NIHR Doctoral Fellowship, Wellcome Trust Henry Wellcome Fellowship, Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellowship, Rhodes Scholarship, and Royal Society Newton International Fellowship. We also collaborate with industrial partners to explore the application of our research to cognitive health.