Toward a Scientific Understanding of the Human Capacity for Cognitive Control


Humans exhibit mental capacities that are distinct from all other species, and the human brain is arguably the most complex device in the known universe. Understanding how it gives rise to mental function is perhaps the greatest challenge science has faced. The emergence of methods to image human brain activity and track mental function has opened up transformative new opportunities for addressing this challenge. Among these challenges, few are as exciting and important as understanding the mechanisms underlying the human capacity for cognitive control. This is responsible for our ability to pursue purposeful, goal-directed behavior. Accordingly, it could be said that our capacity for cognitive control lies at the root of most higher level cognitive functions — such as language, planning and problem solving — and, arguably, even civilization itself. How does the human capacity for cognitive control arise? How does it operate? How can it be improved? This project work addresses the first two of these questions, and sets the stage for being able to address the third. Progress in this work promises to generate a scientific framework that can guide the development of methods for improving our capacity for cognitive control.

This project is directed by a team of five investigators at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute: Jonathan Cohen (the project leader), Matthew Botvinick, Yael Niv, Kenneth Norman, and Nicholas Turk-Browne.  For more information about the project personnel, see People.

For more detailed information about the project mission and planned research, see Mission.

For a list of project-generated research journal publications, see Publications.

For other project-related information, including software downloads and current job listings, see Resources.

This project was made possible through the support of a grant from
The John Templeton Foundation