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Cognitive electrophysiology

A female participant engages in a cognitive task on a computer with electrodes attached to her head. A male participant connects the ends of the electrodes to a machine.
Our EEG research investigates themes such as episodic memory, developmental science, decision making and more.

We use electroencephalography (EEG) to address a wide range of questions about cognition in healthy volunteers and patient groups.

One of our key research areas is episodic memory, which is memory for events from our personal past. There is a huge amount of information stored in our memory, and different situations require the selective and strategic retrieval of specific elements of contextual information that are relevant to the task at hand. Our research examines the ways in which episodic retrieval is constrained, directed and controlled. EEG is particularly useful for investigating this as the real-time temporal resolution of the technique permits the dissociation of processes that occur when an individual is preparing to retrieve information from memory, from those that occur during a retrieval attempt, and those that occur post-retrieval. This work has also taken an individual differences approach and examined factors such as working memory capacity.

Another key area of our research is focused on developmental science, which is a collaborative approach involving the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science (CUCHDS). This line of research aims to understand how early experiences shape neural development both through adverse events and typical family behaviours, and how those experiences promote adaptive and healthy development. In the first year, infants learn to differentiate the new emotions they observe and experience every day, and the use of a pacifier may have a greater effect on how those expressions are interpreted by the infant. The research projects examine the development of empathy and emotional understanding in infants who use or do not use pacifiers.

An small baby has electrodes attached to its head and views images on a computer while its mother holds it in her arms
An infant is presented with imagery while brain activity is recorded using EEG equipment.

Our EEG research also focuses on decision making. These projects investigate research questions in the domain of outcome certainty – for example, does absolute reward probability influence our choices in a meaningful way? By combining computational modelling and machine learning approaches on EEG data, our researchers aim to understand how the brain processes information before, during and after a decisive action, and how the certainty of reward may affect the encoding of such information.

Two graphs showing the difference in brain activity between participants who knew they were getting a reward at the end of a task and participants who were not sure if they would get a reward at the end of a task
two heads show different brain activity between participants in different contexts
This figure shows how brain activities vary across different conditions of uncertainty.

CUBRIC promotes a multi-modal approach to understanding research problems, therefore EEG is also used simultaneously with other techniques such as fMRI. We also have expertise in applying advanced analysis techniques to EEG data, which allows us to automatically recognise epileptic EEG patterns, for example.