Timothy Behrens

2020 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Timothy Behrens

Current Position:
Deputy Director, Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain (University of Oxford); Professor of Computational Neuroscience (University of Oxford); Honorary Lecturer, Wellcome Centre for Imaging Neuroscience (UCL)

University of Oxford and University College London


Recognized for: Elucidating the ways in which the human brain represents our world, makes decisions, and controls our behavior, garnered from a wide range of experimental techniques including studies of neuronal function and mathematical modelling of cognitive computations.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Computational Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Neuroanatomy, Brain Imaging, Decision-Making

Previous Positions:

MEng, University of Oxford
DPhil, University of Oxford (Advisors: Prof. Stephen Smith and Prof. Sir Michael Brady)
Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Oxford (Advisors: Prof. Matthew Rushworth and Prof. Heidi Johansen Berg)
MRC Fellow in Computational Biology, University of Oxford
Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow, University of Oxford & UCL

Research Summary:

The aim of Prof. Tim Behrens’ research is to understand the neural computations that control behavior, and the roles of different brain regions in controlling those behaviors. Key to human behavior and decision making is our ability to build internal models of the world: this allows us to understand the consequences of our actions and the relationships between our experiences. Using mathematical models, behavioral experiments, and neural recordings, Behrens is elucidating how neuronal function gives rise to these internal models. For example, his group has shown that the neural computational structures used to represent physical space are also used to represent abstract concepts, as the brain uses a similar mechanism to encode “maps” of abstract ideas. Such findings have an impact on neural network computing and artificial intelligence; indeed, in his recent work he has partnered with scientists at DeepMind to show that these abstract “maps” are flexible and can be scaled to many levels of complexity. Further, Behrens’ findings have implications for our understanding of cognition and mental health: mechanisms involved in building models of the world may be important targets in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Finally, Behrens has worked to map the precise anatomy of the human brain, and is part of a large-scale collaboration that seeks to map brain connections important for human cognition. Behrens is leading his field in developing computational tools, experimental paradigms, and analysis methods for cognitive neuroscience, and has uncovered key aspects of how we represent the world around us, make decisions, and guide our behavior.

"Being a scientist is like staying a kid all your life. Every day is an adventure, and some days you discover something so cool you want to tell your mum about it. I feel very privileged to do it for a living. It is wonderful that the Blavatnik Family Foundation is supporting UK science, and I am completely thrilled and honoured to be this year’s Laureate in Life Sciences."

Key Publications:

  1. Y. Liu, R.J. Dolan, Z. Kurth-Nelson, T.E.J. Behrens. Human Replay Spontaneously Reorganizes Experience. Cell, 2019.
  2. A.O. Constaninescu, J.X. O’Reilly, T.E.J. Behrens. Organizing Conceptual Knowledge in Humans with a Gridlike Code. Science, 2016.
  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 Versus Tractography. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013.
  4. 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.

Other Honors:

2019Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the United Kingdom Life Sciences Finalist
2018Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the United Kingdom Life Sciences Finalist
2017Troland Award, National Academy of Sciences
2016Young Investigator Award, Organization for Human Brain Mapping
2014Lennart Nillson Award for Scientific Photography, Lennart Nillson Foundation and Karolinska Institutet
2014Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship
2013Early Career Award, Society for Neuroeconomics


In the Media:

KarolinskaInstitutet Oxford Professor Tim Behrens Wins the Lennart Nilsson Award

Organization for Human Brain Mapping Q&A with Dr. Tim Behrens

New Scientist 50 Ideas to Change Science: Neuroscience

Personal Website

UCL Website