Dr Paul Burgess
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
17 Queen Square
Tel: 020 7679 1139
Current Research and Interests
My main interests lie in the following overlapping areas. They concern themselves
with discovering the role that the frontal lobes of the brain play in enabling
us to decide what we want to achieve, and then organise our behaviour to that
end, often over long time periods. I am also interested in how we can measure
and treat executive function problems in people who have suffered brain damage.
1. The Functions of the Rostral Prefrontal Cortex (Area 10)
My recent research is indicating a special role for a large part of the frontal
lobes known as Area 10 in many functions important to human cognition. Up until
now, virtually nothing has been known about the functions of this area, and
I am (with
my Wellcome-Trust funded team) trying to discover what it is there for and how
it works. This is an especially exciting topic because so little is known: it
is likely that the next few years will see rapid scientific advance. Click on
the picture to enlarge the image.
2. The functional organisation of the frontal lobe cognitive system
This refers to building information processing models of how
the processes supported (at least in part) by the frontal lobes work together
to perform various functions. The experiments I carry out vary from e.g. theoretical
studies of simple inhibition or initiation processes, to studies of complex
behaviours in real life (e.g. shopping).
3. Memory control processes
I am interested in how people recall events that have happened
to them, which is a very complex process of reconstruction. One insight into
how this process operates is to look at what happens when it fails, and I
study these mistakes both in healthy people (e.g. Burgess and Shallice, 1996)
and in neurological patients, where the syndrome of gross memory errors is
known as "confabulation." The figure on the right is a model of
the control processes involved in autobiographical recollection (Burgess and
4. Behavioural Organisation
I carry out studies which aim to discover how we form plans,
schedule our activities (known as "multitasking"), remember to carry
out intended actions after a delay ("prospective memory") and assess
the consequences of our actions. These use functional imaging (PET or fMRI),
human neuropsychology, or experimental psychology methods, as well as others
(e.g. verbal protocol analysis; individual differences; ageing).
5. Assessment and Rehabilitation of Executive Function Deficits
Deficits in executive functions may be devastating to someone's
ability to cope with everyday life, work and relationships. It is very important
therefore that we can understand these problems, measure them,
and develop ways of helping people to overcome their deficits. I am inventor
or CO-inventor of a number of neuropsychological tests of executive function
which are now used in clinics throughout the world (e.g.
the Hayling and Brixton Tests); BADS battery; Six Element Test; Multiple
Errands Test) and have, through collaborations with my clinical colleagues,
a long-standing research interest in developing rehabilitation techniques.
Click on the picture to enlarge the image.
What can shopping tell us about how the brain works?
Carrying out a shopping trip, especially in an unfamiliar
environment and where you have to visit many different
shops, is in fact an excellent example of a situation that requires "multitasking"
in everyday life. And we have evidence that these multitasking situations
tap quite specialised brain processes. For instance, in 1991 Tim Shallice
and I investigated three people who had suffered damage to the frontal lobes
of the brain in road traffic accidents. Despite their injuries, they performed
well on traditional clinical tests of executive function, and all were intellectually
very able, performing on IQ tests within the top 10% of the population. However
all three performed a simple real-life shopping test very poorly, and were,
unfortunately unable to hold down even simple jobs in everyday life because
of absent-mindedness and disorganisation. Although many clinicians felt that
these people's problems were probably a consequence of their brain injury,
up to that point there was no way of formally demonstrating them. This had
severe clinical consequences (e.g. one needs to be able to demonstrate a disability
to a court in order for proper compensation to be given). Our study of the
problems experienced by these people (and many others since) has allowed us
to develop various clinical tests which are sensitive to multitasking deficits.
Some of which e.g. the
Six Element Test of the BADS battery are now produced commercially and
used in clinics throughout the world. These tests are used to measure and
demonstrate the severity of multitasking problems in a way that was not possible
before. This is important for assessment, treatment and rehabilitation. Click
on the pictures to enlarge the image.
Confabulation: The "Groundhog Day" man
Some people who are suffering from neurological conditions which (typically)
have affected the frontal lobes of the brain, find that they cannot accurately
recollect events that have happened to them. Their damaged memory system produces
erroneous memories which can seem perfectly real to them. Usually these errors
are seen in many areas of the person's life. However Burgess and McNeil (1999)
described a pattern that had never been reported before, and which informed
existing theories of the cause of confabulation. A male shopkeeper had unfortunately
suffered a bleed in one of the blood vessels in the brain. He made a good
recovery in hospital and returned home, under doctor's instructions not to
work for the next six months. However his wife found that on the morning after
his return home he was preparing to go "stocktaking", convinced
that he had received a call the day before to go meet with a business partner.
But he had not received such a call, and refused to believe his wife when
she told him he was wrong. Eventually he 'phoned the business partner, who
confirmed that this was all in his mind. This sequence of events repeated
itself every morning for approximately 12 weeks. As you can imagine, his wife
(and business partner) was beginning to find this situation difficult, and
it was potentially dangerous for her husband. Fortunately he was able to receive
outpatient neurorehabilitation from the Homerton Hospital in London for his
problem, which resolved over the next few weeks.
If you would like a full list of my publications, please e-mail
Area 10 and the Rostral Prefrontal Cortex
Burgess, P. W., Scott, S. K. & Frith, C. D. (2003) The role of
the rostral frontal cortex (area 10) in prospective memory: a lateral
versus medial dissociation. Neuropsychologia 41, 906-918.
Burgess, P. W., Quayle, A., & Frith, C. D. (2001). Brain regions
involved in prospective memory as determined by positron emission tomography.
Neuropsychologia, 39, 545-555.
Burgess, P. W., Veitch, E., de Lacy Costello, A., & Shallice, T.
(2000). The cognitive and neuroanatomical correlates of multitasking.
Neuropsychologia, 38, 848-863.
Functional Organisation of the Executive System
McNeil, J. E. & Burgess, P. W. (2002) The selective impairment
of arithmetical procedures. Cortex, 38, 569-587.
Burgess, P. W. (1997) Theory and methodology in executive function
research. In P. Rabbitt (Ed.) Methodology of Frontal and Executive
Function (pp. 81-16). Hove, U.K.: Psychology Press.
Burgess, P. W. and Shallice, T. (1996) Bizarre responses, rule detection
and frontal lobe lesions. Cortex 32, 241-260.
Burgess, P. W. and Shallice, T. (1996) Response suppression, initiation
and strategy use following frontal lobe lesion. Neuropsychologia 34,
Shallice, T. and Burgess, P. W. (1996) The domain of supervisory processes
and the temporal organisation of behaviour. Philosophical Transactions
of the Royal Society of London B, 351, 1405-1412.
Shallice, T. and Burgess, P. W. (1991) Higher-order cognitive impairments
and frontal lobe lesions in man. In: H. S. Levin, H. M. Eisenberg, and
A. L. Benton (Eds.) Frontal Lobe Function and Dysfunction (pp.
125-138). New York: Oxford University Press.
Shallice, T., Burgess, P. W., Schon, F., and Baxter, D. M. (1989) The
origins of utilisation behaviour. Brain 112, 1587-1598.
Multitasking, Planning & The Multiple Errands Test
Alderman, N., Knight, C. & Burgess, P. W. (2003) Ecological validity
of a simplified version of the Multiple Errands Test. Journal of
the International Neuropsychological Society, 9, 31-44.
Knight, C., Alderman, N. & Burgess, P. W. (2002) Development of
a simplified version of the multiple errands test for use in hospital
settings. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 12, 231-255.
Burgess, P. W. (2000) Strategy application disorder: The role of the
frontal lobes in human multitasking. Psychological Research, 63,
Goldstein, L. H., Bernard, S., Fenwick, P. B. C., Burgess, P. W. and
McNeil, J. (1993) Unilateral frontal lobectomy can produce strategy
application disorder. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry
Shallice, P. W. and Burgess, P. W. (1991) Deficits in strategy application
following frontal lobe damage in man. Brain 114, 727-741
Assessment and Rehabilitation of Executive Function Deficits
Burgess, P. W. (2003) Assessment of Executive Function. In: P. Halligan,
U. Kischka & J. C. Marshall (Eds.) Handbook of Clinical Neuropsychology.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Burgess, P. W. & Alderman, N. (2003) Assessment and Rehabilitation
of the Dysexecutive Syndrome. In: L. Goldstein & J. E. McNeil (Eds.)
Clinical Neuropsychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley.
Burgess, P. W. & Robertson, I. H. (2002) Principles of the rehabilitation
of frontal lobe function. In: D. T. Stuss & R. T. Knight (Eds.)
Principles of Frontal Lobe Function,
pp. 557-572. New York: Oxford University Press.
Burgess, P. W., Alderman, N., Evans, J., Emslie, H. and Wilson, B.
A. (1998) The ecological validity of tests of executive function.
Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society 4,
Burgess, P.W. & Shallice, T. (1997). The Hayling and Brixton
Tests. Bury St. Edmunds, UK: Thames Valley Test Company.
Burgess, P. W., Alderman, N., Emslie, H., Evans, J. J., and Wilson,
B. A. (1996) The dysexecutive questionnaire. In: B. A. Wilson, N. Alderman,
P. W. Burgess, H. Emslie and J. J. Evans (Eds.) Behavioural Assessment
of the Dysexecutive Syndrome. Bury St. Edmunds, UK: Thames Valley
Burgess, P. W., Alderman, N., Emslie, H., Evans, J. J., Wilson, B.
A., and Shallice, T. (1996) The simplified six element test. In: B.
A. Wilson, N. Alderman, P. W. Burgess, H. Emslie and J. J. Evans (Eds.)
Behavioural Assessment of the Dysexecutive Syndrome. Bury
St. Edmunds, UK: Thames Valley Test
Company.Confabulation and Memory ControlBurgess, P. W and McNeil, J.
E. (1999) Content-specific confabulation. Cortex 35, 163-182.
Burgess, P. W., Baxter, D., Rose, M. and Alderman, N. (1996) Delusional
paramnesic misidentification. In: P. W. Halligan and J. C. Marshall
(Eds.) Method in Madness: Case Studies in Neuropsychiatry (pp.
51-78). Hove, UK: Psychology Press.
Burgess, P. W. and Shallice, T. (1996) Confabulation and the control
of recollection. Memory 4, 359-411.
This page last modified
12 November, 2009
by ICN WEB Team