Timothy Behrens

2018 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Timothy Behrens

Current Position:
Professor of Computational Neuroscience, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences; Deputy Director, FMRIB Centre; Honorary Lecturer, Wellcome Centre for Imaging Neuroscience

University of Oxford; Honorary appointment at University College London


Recognized for: Discoveries and tools that uncover the mechanisms used by the human brain to represent our world, make decisions, and control our behavior.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Computational Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuroanatomy, Reinforcement Learning, Decision-Making


MEng, University of Oxford
DPhil, University of Oxford (Advisor: Prof. Stephen Smith, Prof. Sir Michael Brady)
Postdoctoral Research, FMRIB Centre, University of Oxford (Advisor: Prof. Matthew Rushworth, Prof. Heidi Johansen Berg)
MRC Fellow in Computational Biology, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

Prof. Behrens uses mathematical models, behavioral experiments, and neural recordings to dissect the biological computations that underlie human behavior. He has developed computational tools, experimental paradigms, and analysis methods that have contributed to the field of cognitive neuroscience, and has uncovered key aspects of how we represent the world around us, make decisions, and guide our behavior. For example, his group has shown that the neural computational structures used to represent physical space are also used to represent abstract concepts – the brain uses a similar mechanism to encode “maps” of abstract ideas. Such findings have impact on neural network computing and artificial intelligence, but also on our understanding of cognition and mental health – it has been hypothesized that mechanisms involved in encoding abstract concepts may be important targets in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Prof. Behrens has also worked to map the precise anatomy of the human brain, and is the Chair of the anatomical connectivity section of the US National Institutes of Health Human Connectome Project, a large-scale collaboration that seeks to map networks of neurons important for human cognition. Few fields touch us more deeply, or are more intimately related to our sense of what it means to be human – and Prof. Behrens and his team are at the forefront of this understanding.

“In my lab, we try to provide rigorous descriptions of computations that control behavior. It's fantastic that the field is being recognized by the Blavatnik Awards and I feel very lucky to be its representative.  It is a very exciting time to be trying to understand the mysteries of the brain and I’m fortunate to be tackling these problems with some of the most talented scientists in the world, both in my group and in the wider communities at Oxford and UCL.”

Key Publications:

  1. T.E.J.Behrens, M.W.Woolrich, M.E.Walton, M.F.S.Rushworth. Learning the Value of Information in an Uncertain World. Nature Neuroscience, 2007.
  2. T.E.J.Behrens, L.T.Hunt, M.W.Woolrich, M.F.S.Rushworth. Associative Learning of Social Value. Nature, 2008
  3. S.Jbabdi, J.F.Lehman, S.N.Haber, T.E.J.Behrens. Human and Monkey Ventral Prefrontal Fibers Use the Same Organizational Principles to Reach Their Targets: Tracing vs. Tractography. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013.
  4. A.O.Constantinescu, J.X.O’Reilly, T.E.J.Behrens. Organizing Conceptual Knowledge in Humans with a Gridlike Code. Science, 2016.

Other Honors:

2017 Troland Award, U.S. National Academy of Sciences
2016 Young Investigator Award, Organisation for Human Brain Mapping
2014 Lennart Nillson Award for Scientific Photography, Karolinska Institutet
2014 Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship
2013 Early Career Award, Society for Neuroeconomics

In the Media:

Karolinkska Institutet - Oxford Professor Tim Behrens wins The Lennart Nilsson Award
Organization for Human Brain Mapping – Q&A with Dr. Tim Behrens, 2016 Keynote Speaker Series
New Scientist - 50 ideas to change science: Neuroscience
Science Watch - Tim Behrens Featured Scientist Interview