Jonathan Cohen

Robert Bendheim and Lynn Bendheim Thoman Professor in Neuroscience
Office Phone
240 Princeton Neuroscience Institute

M.D., University of Pennsylvania

Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon University


Research in my laboratory focuses on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying cognitive control, and their disturbance in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. Cognitive control is the ability to guide attention, thought and action in accord with goals or intentions. One of the fundamental mysteries of neuroscience is how this capacity for coordinated, purposeful behavior arises from the distributed activity of many billions of neurons in the brain. Several decades of cognitive and neuroscientific research have focused on the mechanisms by which control influences processing (e.g., attentional effects in sensory processing, goal directed sequencing of motor output, etc.), and the brain structures upon which these functions depend, such as the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, basal ganglia and brainstem neuromodulatory systems. However, we still have a poor understanding of how these systems give rise to cognitive control. Our work seeks to develop mechanistically explicit hypotheses about the functioning of these systems, and to test these hypotheses in empirical studies. An important motivation for this work is the development of a theoretically sound foundation for research on the relationship between disturbances of brain function and their manifestation as disorders of thought and behavior in psychiatric illness.

Selected Publications

Cohen JD, Dunbar K & McClelland JL (1990). On the control of automatic processes: A parallel distributed processing model of the Stroop effect. Psychological Review, 97(3), 332-361.

Miller EK & Cohen JD (2001). An integrative theory of prefrontal cortex function. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 24, 167-202. 

Botvinick, MM, Braver TS, Carter CS, Barch DM & Cohen JD (2001). Conflict monitoring and cognitive control. Psychological Review, 108(3) 624-652.

Aston-Jones G & Cohen JD (2005). An integrative theory of locus coeruleus-norepinephrine function: Adaptive gain and optimal performance. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 28, 403-450. 

Bogacz R, Brown ET, Moehlis J, Hu P, Holmes P & Cohen JD (2006). The physics of optimal decision making: A formal analysis of models of performance in two-alternative forced choice tasks. Psychological Review, 113(4), 700-765.

Shenhav A, Botvinick MM & Cohen JD (2013). The expected value of control: An integrative theory of anterior cingulate cortex function. Neuron, 79, 217-240.

Musslick S & Cohen JD (2021). Rationalizing constraints on the capacity for cognitive control. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 25(9), 757-775.

Webb TW, Sinha I & Cohen JD (2021). Emergent symbols through binding in external memory. ICLR 2021: Proceedings of the International Conference on Learning Representations