Dr Paul Burgess

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
Alexandra House
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.

diagram from Burgess, Scott and Frith (2003)

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).

Model of Control processes in Recollection

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 Shallice, 1996).

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).

Picture of the six element test

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?

diagram of multiple errands task

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.

Further Reading

If you would like a full list of my publications, please e-mail me

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, 263-276.

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, 279-288.

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 56, 274-276.

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, 547-558.

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 Test Company.

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


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