Research Fellows Directory
Dr Sam Gilbert
University College London
One of the most mysterious parts of the human brain is the prefrontal cortex, a large region at the front. It is known that we use our prefrontal cortex to control and organise behaviour, for example when we make a plan for the future, or voluntarily switch from doing one thing to another, or resist temptation. But we understand the prefrontal cortex much less well than other areas. There are many reasons for why it is important to learn more about this area. It plays a crucial role in distinctively human abilities, so learning more about its functions will teach us about how we differ from other animals. Even in humans, it develops slowly and does not become fully mature until late adolescence or adulthood. Knowing more about prefrontal cortex will help us to design educational strategies that take into account changes in the brain at different ages. Problems with the prefrontal cortex are thought to be involved in a range of clinical disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, and people who suffer damage to the prefrontal cortex (for example as a result of stroke, or car accidents) can experience serious problems in everyday life. Better understanding of prefrontal cortex will help us to rehabilitate people who have suffered damage to this part of the brain, or compensate for any problems they may experience.
I am investigating the prefrontal cortex using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), a technique that allows us to view the human brain at work, safely and non-invasively. Although fMRI scanners can tell us about activity occurring in different parts of the brain as little as 2 millimetres apart, most studies ignore such fine-grained information. I am conducting experiments that examine the prefrontal cortex at this fine scale. This extra level of detail is leading us to a more comprehensive understanding of how the prefrontal cortex supports high-level human behaviour.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)