Frederick Verbruggen
Professor of Cognitive Psychology


Research interests

How the brain adjusts behaviour in ever-changing environments is an enduring mystery. Scientists have attributed adaptive and flexible behaviour to executive functions that organise, monitor, regulate, and alter the settings of lower-level cognitive processes. Executive functions allow people to inhibit or change inappropriate or no-longer relevant actions, and adjust decision or choice strategies when outcomes are suboptimal. These functions are critical in everyday life and impairments in them underlie many psychopathological disorders. But many aspects of executive control are still poorly understood. 
In my research, I aim to develop a detailed account of the cognitive and neural mechanisms of executive control, and more generally, behavioural change. In most projects, I use  behavioural paradigms and integrate techniques such as neurostimulation (TMS and tDCS), EEG, and mathematical modelling of decision-making to specify control processes and how variation in the effectiveness of control arises. 


Research projects

I am particularly interested in how ‘automatic‘ and ‘executive‘ processes jointly contribute to goal-directed behaviour, which factors shift the balance between the two, and how people can prepare themselves for situations in which control might be needed. I have recently been awarded an ERC starting grant (2013-2018) to continue this work on ‘updating‘ and the mechanisms behind behavioural change. Chris Chambers and I have also obtained a BBSRC (2013-2016) grant to examine how ageing influences these control mechanisms.

Related to my main research interest, I also focus on how executive control processes, such as response inhibition and switching of strategies, regulate risk-taking, gambling, and eating behaviour (in collaboration with Chris Chambers, Aureliu Lavric, Natalia Lawrence, & Ian McLaren). This work on gambling is now funded by a research grant from the ESRC (2012–2015), a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant (2013), and two Wellcome seedcorn funding grants (PI‘s: Lawrence & Chambers).

Research grants

  • 2012 Economic and Social Research Council
    Title: Do executive motor-control mechanisms regulate monetary choice and gambling?
  • 2012 European Research Council
    Updating the mind: The mechanisms behind behavioural change
  • 2012 British Academy/Leverhulme
    Effects of stress on executive control and risk-taking behaviour
  • 2012 BBSRC
    Neural dynamics of response inhibition and gambling across the lifespan

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