Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
My goal is to understand how humans produce purposeful, adaptive behavior. The main ingredient for adaptive behavior, in all animals, is memory: we understand the world around us by matching the flow of incoming sensory information to previous experience. Importantly, by retrieving past episodes that resemble our present situation, we can predict what is likely to happen next, thus anticipating forthcoming stimuli and advantageous responses learned from past outcomes. Hence, I am interested in how the brain generates predictions about the world. However, unlike many other animals, humans can also produce adaptive behavior that runs counter to our learning history. For instance, we are able to switch from life-long driving on the right side of the road to driving on the left side during a trip to the UK. This capacity to use contextual information (“I’m in London”) to override habitual responses in favor of temporarily more goal-conducive actions is referred to as “cognitive control”, and it greatly enhances the flexibility of human behavior. Cognitive control requires the formation of temporary memory ensembles that link responses to stimuli in novel ways; this is often referred to as a “working memory”, and conceptualized as strategically attending to a select set of currently task-relevant representations. However, the mechanisms that govern this interplay between attention and memory remain poorly understood; our research aims to improve this situation. In my lab, we address the above questions using behavioral, computational, neuroimaging (e.g., fMRI) and neuro-stimulation (TMS) techniques.
Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Meta-Flexibility awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2019 to 2024
Cognitive and neural mechanisms of working memory gating and updating. Control over declarative and procedural working memory. awarded by US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2017 to 2022
A High-Performance 3T MRI for Brain Imaging awarded by National Institutes of Health (Minor User). 2021 to 2022
Mechanisms Regulating Complex Social Behavior awarded by University of Pennsylvania (Co Investigator). 2016 to 2021
Characterizing Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Control awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2010 to 2019
Thrust 1: Biophysical Modeling of Satisficing Control Strategies as Derived from Quantification of Primate Brain Activity and Psychophysics awarded by Office of Naval Research (Co-Principal Investigator). 2013 to 2018
Expectation and Attention in Visual Cognition awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2013 to 2018
A Compute Cluster for Brain Imaging and Analysis awarded by National Institutes of Health (Major User). 2016 to 2017
Effects of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation on Neurons in Behaving Primates awarded by National Institutes of Health (Co Investigator). 2012 to 2014
Precision Targeting of fMRI-Guided TMS Using a Robotic Arm System awarded by National Institutes of Health (Investigator). 2010 to 2011
Whitehead, Peter S., et al. “Mind wandering at encoding, but not at retrieval, disrupts one-shot stimulus-control learning.” Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, July 2021. Epmc, doi:10.3758/s13414-021-02343-9. Full Text
George, Nithin, and Tobias Egner. “Stimulus variability and task relevance modulate binding-learning.” Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, July 2021. Epmc, doi:10.3758/s13414-021-02338-6. Full Text
Verschooren, Sam, et al. “Evidence for a single mechanism gating perceptual and long-term memory information into working memory.” Cognition, vol. 212, July 2021, p. 104668. Epmc, doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2021.104668. Full Text
Kiyonaga, Anastasia, et al. “Hemisphere-specific Parietal Contributions to the Interplay between Working Memory and Attention.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol. 33, no. 8, July 2021, pp. 1428–41. Epmc, doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01740. Full Text
Yin, Shouhang, et al. “Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Drives the Prioritization of Self-Associated Stimuli in Working Memory.” The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, vol. 41, no. 9, Mar. 2021, pp. 2012–23. Epmc, doi:10.1523/jneurosci.1783-20.2020. Full Text
Verschooren, Sam, et al. “More efficient shielding for internal than external attention? Evidence from asymmetrical switch costs.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance, vol. 46, no. 9, Sept. 2020, pp. 912–25. Epmc, doi:10.1037/xhp0000758. Full Text
Siqi-Liu, Audrey, and Tobias Egner. “Contextual Adaptation of Cognitive Flexibility is driven by Task- and Item-Level Learning.” Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 20, no. 4, Aug. 2020, pp. 757–82. Epmc, doi:10.3758/s13415-020-00801-9. Full Text
Sali, Anthony W., et al. “Neural Mechanisms of Strategic Adaptation in Attentional Flexibility.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, vol. 32, no. 5, May 2020, pp. 989–1008. Epmc, doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01541. Full Text
Sali, Anthony W., and Tobias Egner. “Declarative and procedural working memory updating processes are mutually facilitative.” Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, vol. 82, no. 4, May 2020, pp. 1858–71. Epmc, doi:10.3758/s13414-019-01887-1. Full Text
Dowd, E. W., et al. “Probability of guessing, not precision, changes in mixture models of visual working memory during cognitive control of attentional guidance.” Visual Cognition, vol. 22, no. 8, 2014, pp. 1027–30. Scopus, doi:10.1080/13506285.2014.960669. Full Text
Torres-Quesada, Maryem, et al. “DISSOCIABLE NEURAL MECHANISMS MEDIATE PROACTIVE CONTROL OVER EMOTIONAL VS. NON-EMOTIONAL CONFLICT.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, MIT PRESS, 2013, pp. 219–219.
Braem, Senne, et al. “AFFECTIVE MODULATION OF COGNITIVE CONTROL VARIES WITH PERFORMANCE-CONTINGENCY.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, MIT PRESS, 2013, pp. 37–37.
Kiyonaga, Anastasia, and Tobias Egner. “RESOURCE-SHARING BETWEEN INTERNAL MAINTENANCE AND EXTERNAL SELECTION UNDERLIES THE CAPTURE OF ATTENTION BY WORKING MEMORY CONTENT.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, MIT PRESS, 2013, pp. 133–133.
Jiang, Jiefeng, et al. “ATTENTION AMPLIFIES OR SUPPRESSES NEURAL PREDICTION ERROR RESPONSES IN A REGIONALLY SPECIFIC MANNER.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, MIT PRESS, 2013, pp. 209–209.
Egner, Tobias. “Conflict-driven cognitive control mechanisms in the human brain.” Neuroscience Research, vol. 65, Elsevier BV, 2009, pp. S30–S30. Crossref, doi:10.1016/j.neures.2009.09.1664. Full Text