Tobias Egner

Tobias Egner

Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Education & Training

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

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


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.


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

Chiu, Y-C, and Egner, T. "Cortical and subcortical contributions to context-control learning." Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 99 (April 2019): 33-41. (Review) Full Text

Yin, S, Sui, J, Chiu, Y-C, Chen, A, and Egner, T. "Automatic Prioritization of Self-Referential Stimuli in Working Memory." Psychological Science 30.3 (March 2019): 415-423. Full Text

Toader, AC, Rao, HM, Ryoo, M, Bohlen, MO, Cruger, JS, Oh-Descher, H, Ferrari, S, Egner, T, Beck, J, and Sommer, MA. "Probabilistic inferential decision-making under time pressure in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)." Journal of Comparative Psychology (Washington, D.C. : 1983) (February 25, 2019). Full Text Open Access Copy

Whitehead, PS, and Egner, T. "Frequency of prospective use modulates instructed task-set interference." Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance 44.12 (December 2018): 1970-1980. Full Text

Braem, S, and Egner, T. "Getting a grip on cognitive flexibility." Current Directions in Psychological Science 27.6 (December 2018): 470-476. Full Text

Tan, J, Yin, S, Wang, L, Chen, A, and Egner, T. "Processing overlap-dependent distractor dilution rather than perceptual target load determines attentional selectivity." Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 80.8 (November 2018): 2048-2059. Full Text

Bejjani, C, Zhang, Z, and Egner, T. "Control by association: Transfer of implicitly primed attentional states across linked stimuli." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 25.2 (April 2018): 617-626. Full Text

Muhle-Karbe, PS, Jiang, J, and Egner, T. "Causal Evidence for Learning-Dependent Frontal Lobe Contributions to Cognitive Control." The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 38.4 (January 2018): 962-973. Full Text

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


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

Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Meta-Flexibility awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 2019 to 2024

Mechanisms Regulating Complex Social Behavior awarded by University of Pennsylvania (Co Investigator). 2016 to 2020

Cognitive and neural mechanisms of working memory gating and updating awarded by US-Israel Binational Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2017 to 2019

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

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

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