Professor Michael Thomas

Position: Head of Lab
Office: Room 520, Main Building
Birkbeck College, Malet Street
Phone: 020 7631 6386
Fax: 020 7631 6312

Professor Michael (Fred) Thomas, BSc(Hons.) MSc DPhil(Oxon) CPsychol FBPsS FAPS

Contact details, research information, and publications can be found at my departmental webpage here. Information about the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, of which I am currently director, can be found here.


The cognitive system is remarkably complicated. The human mind appears very sophisticated compared to many animals – sometimes we do things better, sometimes differently. (Let’s ignore the bit where the animals are cleverer. I’m trying to be upbeat about humans, here. I’ve no idea how birds migrate using the Earth’s magnetic field or how bees hover on a windy day). Yet humans share the vast proportion of our genes with many other species. Where does the complex structure of the human cognitive system come from? How do genes influence its construction differently from our animal cousins? How much does the mind’s detailed structure rely on genetic instructions to build specific brain mechanisms versus an instruction just to build general computational power (and let learning do the rest)? How much does the structure of the human mind rely on the intricately layered cultural environment in which we are brought up? What is responsible for the change in performance we see as children get older? What can give two children or adults of the same age different cognitive abilities? What can go wrong in the construction of the mind? All these questions drive my research. One of my main research methods is building computational models of human cognition: I want to see processes of cognitive development happening in formal, concrete simulations. As Kevin Costner’s character is told in the Hollywood movie, Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” Kevin replies, “Who will come?”

I’ve no idea either, Kevin.


Biog: I studied Psychology at the University of Exeter from 1987-1990, gaining a BSc(Hons.) degree, and completed an MSc in Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham in 1991-1992, where my masters thesis was supervised by Prof. Glyn Humphreys. I then moved to the University of Oxford from 1992-1995, where I completed a D.Phil in Experimental Psychology under the supervision of Prof. Kim Plunkett and Prof. Alan Allport. My thesis explored the acquisition and functioning of the bilingual lexicon using empirical and computational methods. Between 1995 and 1998, I lectured at the University of Winchester, until joining Prof. Annette Karmiloff-Smith’s research lab at the Institute of Child Health as a research fellow. I joined Birkbeck College in 2002, and I am currently a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience. I established the Developmental Neurocognition Laboratory in 2003, within Birkbeck’s world-leading Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. The focus of my laboratory is to use multi-disciplinary methods to understand the brain and cognitive bases of cognitive variability. In 2006, the lab was the co-recipient of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education. In 2010, I became Director of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, a tri-institutional research centre which aims to further translational research between neuroscience and education, and establish new transdisciplinary accounts in the learning sciences. I am a Chartered Psychologist, Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and Fellow of the American Psychological Society. Sometimes I have been called Fred. Here’s why. I’m married with twin sons.



I’m a big fan of fencing. Here, I’m on piste attacking the man in dark trousers.