Richard Passingham has transformed our understanding of the physiology and evolution of cognitive functions that distinguish humans from other mammals. Working with both human subjects and monkeys, he has explored the role of the massively expanded frontal lobes of the human cerebral cortex in planning and controlling our actions.
Richard has deployed multiple strategies to understand what happens in the brain when we make decisions. He has studied the effects of brain damage, worked with patients with neurological disorders, interfered with brain activity in healthy patients using transcranial magnetic brain stimulation and recorded brain activity using a variety of imaging methods.
In his book The Neurobiology of the Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Evolution, and the Origin of Insight (2012), co-authored with Steven Wise, he argues that the prefrontal cortex rapidly generates goals based on a variety of contextual cues, giving humans a means of overriding the actions of evolutionarily older, slower learning systems.