We are delighted to announce that Alex Woolgar will be joining the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (MRC CBU) as a new Programme Leader Track scientist in April 2018. She will be leading a new programme investigating the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in the flexible control of cognition.
Alex is currently an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia). She carried out her PhD research with Professor John Duncan at the MRC CBU, and held postdoctoral posts at the University of Cambridge and Macquarie University. Since 2012 Alex’s work has been funded by the ARC in a series of project grants and fellowships.
Alex’s research asks how humans – characterised above all animals for the diversity and flexibility of their behaviour – cope so effortlessly in the ever changing world around us. Key questions that guide her research programme are how the brain achieves the flexible cognitive control required for diverse behaviour, and what neural mechanisms give rise to flexible selective attention.
Alex’s research uses novel methods for neuroimaging analysis that provide new insights into how the brain processes information from the world and integrates it with internal representations of task rules and current cognitive focus. Multivariate pattern analysis are used with fMRI and MEG data to examine these processes as participants perform tasks.
Alex focuses on the contribution of a network of frontal and parietal “multiple-demand” brain regions that are involved in a wide range of tasks. These regions are thought to respond flexibly: they adapt to process the most important information at each moment, and to bias processing elsewhere in the brain to drive a goal-directed response across the system. Current projects focus on the flexibility of representation in the multiple-demand system, the relationship between processing in these regions and more specialised brain regions such as the visual cortices, and the importance of multi-voxel patterns for human behaviour.
In a new arm of her research, Alex studies language abilities in children with autism who do not yet speak. The aim is to use neuroimaging to examine the cognitive abilities of this understudied population who may otherwise struggle to show how much they know.
Alex said “I’m delighted to be joining the team at the MRC CBU next Spring. Understanding the human brain has implications for every aspect of life, from how best to educate, inform and influence people, to developing interventions for brain injury or psychological disorders. We have sophisticated technologies that allow us to observe the human brain in action, but we need new approaches to link brain activation to the behaviour it is thought to support. My new programme at the CBU will aim to combine the latest neuroimaging, brain stimulation, and analysis methods to help us draw this link and step closer to unravelling the mystery of how the brain gives rise to cognition.”