Prof Paul Burgess
Profesor of Cognitive Neuroscience
Metacognition and Excutive Functions Group Leader
Current Research and Interests
Neuropsychology, especially memory and executive functions; schizophrenia; neurorehabilitation.
My interests lie in five overlapping areas. They all concern themselves with discovering the role that the frontal lobes of the brain play in enabling us to decide what we want to achieve, and then organise our behaviour to that end, often over long time periods. I am also interested in how we can measure and treat executive function problems in people who have suffered brain damage, and the neuropsychiatric sequelae of frontal lobe dysfunction.
1. The functions of rostral prefrontal cortex (Area 10)
My recent research is indicating a special role for a large part of the frontal lobes known as Area 10 in many functions important to human cognition. Up until now, virtually nothing has been known about the functions of this area, and my group is trying to discover what it is there for and how it works. This is an especially exciting topic because so little is known: it is likely that the next few years will see rapid scientific advance.
2. Functional organisation of the frontal lobe cognitive system
My group and I build and test information processing models of how the cognitive processes supported (at least in part) by the frontal lobes work together to perform various functions. The experiments I carry out vary from e.g. theoretical studies of simple inhibition or initiation processes, to studies of complex behaviours in real life (e.g. shopping).
3. Memory control processes
I am interested in how people recall events that have happened to them, which is a very complex process of reconstruction and memory for "source". One insight into how this process operates is to look at what happens when it fails, and I study these mistakes both in healthy people (e.g. Burgess and Shallice, 1996) and in neurological patients, where the syndrome of gross memory errors is known as "confabulation."
4. Behavioural organisation
I carry out studies which aim to discover how we form plans, schedule our activities (known as "multitasking"), remember to carry out intended actions after a delay ("prospective memory") and assess the consequences of our actions. These use functional imaging (PET or fMRI), human neuropsychology, and experimental psychology methods, as well as others (e.g. verbal protocol analysis; individual differences; ageing; developmental studies).
5. Assessment and rehabilitation of executive function deficits
Deficits in executive functions may be devastating to someone's ability to cope with everyday life, work and relationships. It is very important therefore that we can understand these problems, measure them, and develop ways of helping people to overcome their deficits. I am inventor or co-inventor of a number of neuropsychological tests of executive function which are now used in clinics throughout the world (e.g. the Hayling and Brixton Tests; BADS battery; Six Element Test; Multiple Errands Test) and have, through collaborations with my clinical colleagues, a long-standing research interest in developing rehabilitation techniques.
6. Frontal lobe function and mental health.
I am interested in finding out the role that purturbation or atypical development of frontal lobe structures might play in the presentation of psychiatric and psychosocial disorders such as schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorders (especially Asperger Syndrome).