Tobias Egner

Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., University of London (UK) 2002

  • B.S., University of London (UK) 1999

Overview

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.

Expertise

Cognitive control, memory, attention, predictive coding, neuroimaging, neurostimulation

Kiyonaga, A, Dowd, EW, and Egner, T. "Neural Representation of Working Memory Content Is Modulated by Visual Attentional Demand. (Accepted)" Journal of cognitive neuroscience 29.12 (December 2017): 2011-2024. Full Text

Qiao, L, Zhang, L, Chen, A, and Egner, T. "Dynamic Trial-by-Trial Recoding of Task-Set Representations in the Frontoparietal Cortex Mediates Behavioral Flexibility." The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 37.45 (November 2017): 11037-11050. Full Text

Oh-Descher, H, Beck, JM, Ferrari, S, Sommer, MA, and Egner, T. "Probabilistic inference under time pressure leads to a cortical-to-subcortical shift in decision evidence integration." NeuroImage 162 (September 4, 2017): 138-150. Full Text Open Access Copy

Korb, FM, Jiang, J, King, JA, and Egner, T. "Hierarchically Organized Medial Frontal Cortex-Basal Ganglia Loops Selectively Control Task- and Response-Selection." The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 37.33 (August 2017): 7893-7905. Full Text

Dowd, EW, Pearson, JM, and Egner, T. "Decoding working memory content from attentional biases." Psychonomic bulletin & review (February 2, 2017). Full Text

Braem, S, King, JA, Korb, FM, Krebs, RM, Notebaert, W, and Egner, T. "The Role of Anterior Cingulate Cortex in the Affective Evaluation of Conflict." Journal of cognitive neuroscience 29.1 (January 2017): 137-149. Full Text

Mansouri, FA, Egner, T, and Buckley, MJ. "Monitoring Demands for Executive Control: Shared Functions between Human and Nonhuman Primates." Trends in neurosciences 40.1 (January 2017): 15-27. (Review) Full Text

Chiu, Y-C, Jiang, J, and Egner, T. "The Caudate Nucleus Mediates Learning of Stimulus-Control State Associations." The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience 37.4 (January 2017): 1028-1038. Full Text

Chiu, Y-C, and Egner, T. "Cueing Cognitive Flexibility: Item-Specific Learning of Switch Readiness." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (2017). Full Text

Chiu, YC, Jiang, J, and Egner, T. "The caudate nucleus mediates learning of stimulus-control state associations." The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience (December 15, 2016).

Pages

Egner, T. "Brain Mapping of Control Processes." Brain Mapping: An Encyclopedic Reference. February 14, 2015. 581-587. Full Text

Reeck, C, and Egner, T. "Interactions between Attention and Emotion." Brain Mapping: An Encyclopedic Reference. February 14, 2015. 269-274. Full Text

Egner, T. The Wiley Handbook of Cognitive Control. Wiley-Blackwell, March 20, 2017.

Selected Grants

Characterizing Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Control awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2010 to 2019

Cognitive and neural mechanisms of working memory gating and updating awarded by US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2017 to 2018

Thrust 1: Biophysical Modeling and Satisficing Control Strategies as Derived from Quantification of Primate Brain Activ awarded by Office of Naval Research (Co-Principal Investigator). 2013 to 2018

Mechanisms Regulating Complex Social Behavior awarded by University of Pennsylvania (Co Investigator). 2016 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