ZiF Research Group

Cognitive Behavior of Humans, Animals, and Machines:

Situation Model Perspectives

October 2019 – July 2020

Convenors: Werner Schneider (Bielefeld, GER), Helge Ritter (Bielefeld, GER)

John Duncan

Associate Fellow

Foto MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit,
University of Cambridge & University of Oxford, UK
E-Mail: john.duncan@mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk


John Duncan studied Psychology and Physiology and did his DPhil in Psychology at the University of Oxford. As a postdoctoral researcher, he worked at the University of Oregon before joining the MRC in Cambridge, where he has remained to the present. He also holds a parallel appointment at the University of Oxford. His research has led to a number of awards, including Fellowships of the Royal Society and British Academy, and the 2012 Heineken Prize in Cognitive Science. John Duncan is currently president elect of the Experimental Psychology Society. Much of his research is summarized in the popular science book How Intelligence Happens (2010).

Current Main Research Interests

My work combines cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, neuroimaging, and single cell physiology in the behaving monkey, addressing problems of attention, intelligence and cognitive control. In the human brain, a distributed "multiple-demand" (MD) system is recruited during many different kinds of cognitive activity, and we use converging methods to investigate its role in cognitive control and the organization of thought and behaviour. One programme, for example, concerns the widespread disorganization of thought and behaviour that can follow damage to the MD system. Another uses single cell recording to ask how behaviour is controlled through the dynamic activity of large neural networks. A third uses brain imaging and behavioural methods to link MD function to human reasoning, abstraction and intelligence.

Five selected publications with particular relevance to the Research Group
  • Duncan, J., Chylinski, D., Mitchell, D. J., & Bhandari, A. (2017). Complexity and compositionality in fluid intelligence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114, 5295-5299.
  • Duncan, J. (2013). The structure of cognition: Attentional episodes in mind and brain. Neuron, 80, 35-50.
  • Fedorenko, E., Duncan, J., & Kanwisher, N. (2013). Broad domain generality in focal regions of frontal and parietal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110, 16616-16621
  • Stokes, M. G., Kusunoki, M., Sigala, N., Nili, H., Gaffan, D., & Duncan, J. (2013). Dynamic coding for cognitive control in prefrontal cortex. Neuron, 78, 364-375.
  • Duncan, J. (2010). The multiple-demand (MD) system of the primate brain: mental programs for intelligent behaviour. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 172-179.