Tao Chen

Tao is a PhD candidate from China. He has obtained a master's degree in cognitive neuroscience from Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IPCAS), and devoted himself to understand how the brain engages in spontaneous thoughts and cognitive flexibility. He is skilful in communicating with populations with cognitive impairment and has expertise in neuroimaging data analyses. To date, he has produced 8 peer-reviewed publications in international scientific journals as the first author(s), such as Clinical Psychological Science, Schizophrenia Research. He has been twice endowed with National Scholarship awarded by Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China. He is keen to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience to expand his research experience and explore cognitive inflexibility and its associated cognitive and neural mechanisms in aging and neurodegenerative disorders, using the most current theoretical framework and cutting-edge imaging data analysis approaches.

Forefront Group: FRONTIER Research Group, Memory and Imagination in Neurological Disorders team (MIND)


Prof. Muireann Irish and Prof. Olivier Piguet


  • Clinical psychology
  • Psychiatry
  • Imaging data analysis

Affiliate Organisations:

Brain and Mind Centre School of Psychology

Neurodegeneration of interest:

AD, FTD, Ageing

Specific Skills:

  • Functional Imaging Analysis
  • Structural Imaging Analysis
  • Cognitive Training

Project - Cognitive flexibility and spontaneous cognition in dementia

Disease area:

Dementia, FTD, AD, Ageing

Research Project Description

This project aims to provide new insights into how the brain enables us to shift efficiently from different thoughts and different tasks to confer flexibility in our everyday actions. By exploring how these processes break down in dementia, it will further contribute critical information for patient management and interventions to improve wellbeing in dementia. I will achieve this across three separate studies:

Study 1: Determine the multifaceted nature of cognitive inflexibility in aging
Using a series of validated cognitive tasks and subjective questionnaires, I will explore how three discrete facets of cognitive flexibility are altered in healthy aging. Participants will complete measures of set shifting (Wisconsin Card Sorting Task), inhibitory control (Go/No-Go Task) and working memory (2-Back Task). Questionnaires targeting cognitive flexibility in daily life will be administered (e.g., the Cognitive Flexibility Inventory). Between group differences in different tasks tapping cognitive flexibility will be explored using multivariate ANOVA enabling us to derive a profile of cognitive flexibility changes in healthy older adults.

Study 2: Cognitive inflexibility in dementia syndromes
Using the validated test battery from Study 1, I will explore the multidimensional nature of cognitive inflexibility across dementia syndromes and its associated cognitive mechanisms.

Patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will complete a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment and the 3 experimental tasks used in Study 1. Their performance will be compared to a new Control cohort matched for age, education, and sex distribution (n=30). Between group differences will be tested using multivariate ANOVA. Pearson R correlations will be used to explore associations between performance on the cognitive rigidity tasks and carer report of behavioural changes in the patients.

Study 3: The neural substrates of cognitive inflexibility in dementia
Current models of cognitive flexibility emphasise the importance of a distributed network of frontoparietal and subcortical regions including the ventrolateral and dorsolateral PFC, the anterior cingulate cortex, and right anterior insula, along with the inferior and superior parietal cortices, inferior temporal cortex, and subcortical structures including the thalamus and caudate nucleus. Using multimodal imaging, I will determine how the progressive degeneration of these brain circuits relates to distinct profiles of cognitive inflexibility in bvFTD and AD.