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Key research areas

The current research of the group falls under three main headings:

  • Associative Learning and Memory
  • Control of Cognition
  • Clinical Neuropsychology

In addition, the group has a history of research in psycholinguistics and developmental psychology, and there are projects that cut across or combine these interests. The armoury of research methods we use includes:  behavioural testing of normal participants and neurological patients, EEG/ERP, fMRI, eye-tracking, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and psychophysiological measures.

Associative Learning and Memory

(Ian McLarenFraser Milton) (Ciro Civille)

The major research focus of this sub-group is fundamental processes of learning in humans and in other animals. 

The central theme of Ian McLaren’s research has been the development of a computational theory of perceptual learning, stimulus representation, and associability processes, derived initially from research on infra-humans, and now applied to a wide range of phenomena in human learning and performance.  To what extent can this elemental associative model account for human cognition, and to what extent do we need to appeal to symbolic rule-based processes? He and his collaborators have addressed this issue in experiments on (among other cognitive skills) discrimination learning and generalisation, causal learning, sequence learning, memory for faces (with Ciro Civile), categorisation (with Fraser Milton), retrospective re-evaluation, recognition memory for recent occurrences, and performance in task-switching situations (the last two with Stephen Monsell).

Fraser Milton also works on categorisation, especially free classification, and the relative contributions of quick and automatic holistic processing versus rule-based analytic processing. He has also been working with Adam Zeman (see below) on  unusual memory deficits — autobiographical amnesia and accelerated forgetting - seen in temporal lobe epilepsy, and Aphantasia - an absence of visual imagery in memory and cognition. He uses techniques such as fMRI and complex behavioural designs in his work.

Ciro Civile works on perceptual learning and recognition with particular reference to face perception. He also uses a wide range of cognitive neuroscience techniques, among them tDCS and EEG/ERP imaging. His work makes contact both with the social aspects of face perception (stigma, objectification) and the more clinical aspects such as prosopagnosia (also known as face blindness).

Control of Cognition

(Stephen MonsellAureliu Lavric, Heike Elchlepp, Felice Van’t Wout) - see also Natalia Lawrence and Tobias Stevens in the Clinical group.

We use behavioural and neuroscience techniques such as reaction time measurement, fMRI, EEG/ERP, eyetracking and TMS to investigate the processes by which we organise and regulate cognitive processes, especially in situations where multiple sources of information compete for attention and control of behaviour. This work has potential applications to understanding clinical disorders of control (e.g. ADHD, OCD) and emotion regulation,  socially problematic behaviours such as  risk-taking and compulsive gambling,  and performance limitations and sources of error in multitasking environments.

Stephen Monsell works on the executive processes that organise the mind/brain to accomplish one particular task out of the many currently afforded by the environment, mostly in experiments which require people to switch frequently between cognitive tasks.  His behavioural research investigating the sources of task switch costs, the ability to prepare for a change of tasks and the impact of associations between stimuli, cues and tasks, has led to recent TMS studies and to collaboration with Aureliu Lavric examining electrophysiological and eyetracking indices of task preparation and the processing locus of switch costs.  Monsell and Lavric also investigate switching between languages and between linguistic and other kinds of processing.

In addition, Aureliu Lavric has examined electrophysiological signatures of interference due to a stimulus having a prior association with another task, and deliberate withholding of responses (in "no-go" paradigms). His methodological interests include statistical analysis of EEG/ERP data, simultaneous EEG-fMRI, multivariate temporal and spatial analysis of eye-movement data, and modelling of multi-stable systems.

Heike Elchlepp is also expert in the use of behavioural and neuroscience techniques such as reaction time measurement and EEG/ERP analysis in the context of executive control. He work overlaps a great deal with that of Monsell and Lavric but also overlaps with some of her clinical colleagues (Tobias Stevens) is studying the effects of depression and anxiety on executive function.

Felice Van’t Wout is another expert on executive function, but in this case her specialism is more towards the developmental aspects of control. She collaborates with the other members of the sub-group, and runs experiments that compare normal adult function to that of younger populations (both secondary and primary school age groups). She also has an interest in sequence learning and the rapid acquisition of novel tasks via instruction.


Cognitive Neuroscience

(Cassandra Lowe, Gavin Price, Julian Basanovic)

Cassandra Lowe works with TMS and fMRI to understand the mechanisms controlling eating, and especially over-eating. 

Gavin Price uses advanced fMRI techniques to study numerical condition in adults and young people.

Julian Basanovic uses a range of cognitive neuroscience techniques to study emotion and cognition.

Language Processing

(Nicolas Dumay, Aureliu Lavric)

Emeritus Professor Don Mitchell's main focus is on comprehension in reading, especially models of the extraction of syntactic information,  and ways in which such processes vary from language to language; much of the latter work has been done in collaboration with colleagues in Holland and Spain.  Aureliu Lavric uses electrophysiological and priming techniques to explore the early and automatic decomposition of morphologically complex words into their constituents, in collaboration with Kathy Rastle (Royal Holloway). Stephen Monsell has worked on lexical access in comprehension and production and the relation between them, phonological  encoding and articulatory planning. Chris Code, Honorary Fellow in the School, and editor of the journal Aphasiology, is interested in a several aspects of the neuropsychology of language, calculation and facial expression production. Nicolas Dumay’s work focusses on lexicalisation and consolidation - the process by which a letter string becomes a word. He uses manipulation of learning times in relation to sleep cycles to affect memory for words and so cast light on basic mechanisms in memory and language.

Developmental Psychology

(Ian McLaren, Felice Van't Wout)

Ian McLaren studies the development of basic processes governing learning in young children (Primary School age). His focus is on Latent Inhibition, a phenomenon that young children (4-5 years old) seem to share with the rest of the mammalian world but that apparently disappears in adult humans. Felice Van’t Wout studies the development of executive function in young people, in particular being interested in the rapid learning of new tasks.