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Tobias Egner, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Affiliate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society and Member of Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Investigator of Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and Affiliate of the Center for Brain Imaging and Analysis and Director of Graduate Studies in the Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program (CNAP)

Tobias Egner

Research Summary:
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.


Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience

Representative Publications:   (More Publications)   (search)

  1. A Kiyonaga and T Egner (2013). Working memory as internal attention: toward an integrative account of internal and external selection processes.. Psychon Bull Rev, 20(2), 228-242. [23233157], [doi]  [abs]
  2. Krebs, R.M., Boehler, C.N., De Belder, M., Egner, T. (2013). Neural conflict-control mechanisms improve memory for target stimuli. Cerebral Cortex, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht283.
  3. S Braem, JA King, FM Korb, RM Krebs, W Notebaert and T Egner (2013). Affective modulation of cognitive control is determined by performance-contingency and mediated by ventromedial prefrontal and cingulate cortex.. J Neurosci, 33(43), 16961-16970. [24155301], [doi]  [abs]
  4. J Jiang, C Summerfield and T Egner (2013). Attention sharpens the distinction between expected and unexpected percepts in the visual brain.. J Neurosci, 33(47), 18438-18447. [24259568], [doi]  [abs]
  5. JA King, FM Korb and T Egner (2012). Priming of control: implicit contextual cuing of top-down attentional set.. J Neurosci, 32(24), 8192-8200. [22699900], [doi]  [abs]

Lab Personnel: 
Amelia Abbott-Frey, Lab Manager (

Postdocs Mentored

  • Jiefeng Jiang (June 01, 2014 - present)  
  • Yu-Chin Chiu (August, 2013 - present)  
  • Franziska M. Korb (January 4, 2010 - January, 2013)  
  • Joseph A. King (January 4, 2010 - January, 2013)  

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