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 SFHEA

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, Fellow of the American Psychological Society, and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. 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.

Here’s some live action:

I jotted down a novel. It’s called Sunset, a sort of comedy science fiction thing about the end of the world, for people who like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett. Sunset is available as a real book or an electronic one, and here’s a blog ruminating on its contents. (The boy has too much free time, you’re saying to yourself. I surely did, once. Till the twins came along.)



OscarTM winning movie actor and director Kevin Costner

My local fencing club: Saxon Fencing Club.


“Legacy” publications

Cognitive Development:

Mareschal, D. & Thomas, M. S. C. (2001). Self-organisation in normal and abnormal cognitive development. In A. F. Kalverboer, & A. Gramsbergen (Eds.). Handbook of Brain and Behaviour in Human Development (pp.743-766). Kluwer Academic Press. Click here for Word97 document (final draft) (293k)

Thomas, M. S. C. (2000). Neuroconstructivism’s promise. Developmental Science, 3(1), 35-37. Click here for Word97 document (final draft)
(35 k)

Thomas, M. S. C. & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (1999). Quo vadis modularity in the 1990s? Learning and Individual Differences, 10(3), 245-250. Abstract

Computational modelling and acquired deficits:

Thomas, M. S. C. & de Wet, N. M. (1998). Stochastic double dissociations in distributed models of semantic memory. In D. Heinke and G. Humphreys (Eds.). Proceedings of the 5th Neural Computation and
Psychology Workshop
. Springer. Click here for Word97 version (1,425 k)

Connectionist Modelling:

Thomas, M. S. C. (2004). The state of connectionism in 2004. Parallaxis, 8, 43-61. Click here for html version

Thomas, M.S.C. and Stone, A. (1998). Cognitive connectionist models are just models, and connectionism is a progressive research programme. Commentary on Green on Connectionist Explanation. Psycoloquy, 36. HTML

Bilingual language processing:

Thomas, M. S. C. & Van Heuven, W. (2005). Computational models of bilingual comprehension. To appear in J. F. Kroll & A. M. B. De Groot (Eds.) Handbook of Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Approaches. Oxford University Press. Click here for Word97 document of final draft

Thomas, M. S. C. (2002). Theories that develop. Bilingualism: Language & Cognition, 5(3), 216-217. Click here for pdf (174k)

Thomas, M. S. C. & A. Allport (2000). Language switching costs in bilingual visual word recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 43, 44-66. Abstract

Thomas, M.S.C. (1998). Bilingualism and the Single route / Dual Route debate. Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Erlbaum. Pp. 1061-1066. Word 97 document (98 k)

Thomas, M. S. C. (1997). Connectionist networks and knowledge representation: The case of bilingual lexical processing. Unpublished D.Phil. thesis, University of Oxford. Click here for Word97 version (1742 k),
Click here for PDF file of Contents pages and Abstract (74 k), Click here for PDF file of Appendices (30.2mb).

Thomas, M.S.C. (1997). Distributed representations and the bilingual lexicon: One store or two? In J. Bullinaria, D. Glasspool, and G. Houghton (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Annual Neural Computation and
Psychology Workshop
. Springer. Click here for Word97 version (454 k)

Thomas, M.S.C., and Plunkett, K. (1995). Representing the bilingual’s two lexicons. In Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Erlbaum. Pp. 760-765. Click here for PDF (35 k)


Thomas, M. S. C. & Mareschal, D. (2001). Metaphor as categorisation: A connectionist implementation. Metaphor and Symbol, 16 (1/2), 5-27. Click here for Word97 version (final draft) (325 k)

Thomas, M. S. C., Mareschal, D., & Hinds, A. (2001). A connectionist account of the emergence of the literal-metaphorical-anomalous distinction in young children. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Erlbaum. PDF (90 k)

Thomas, M. S. C. & Mareschal, D. (1999). Metaphor as categorisation: A connectionist implementation. Proceedings of the AISB99 Symposium on Metaphor, Artificial Intelligence, and Cognition. The Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and the Simulation of Behaviour. Pp. 1-10.

Thomas, M.S.C. and Mareschal, D. (1997). Connectionism and psychological notions of similarity. Proceedings of the 19th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Erlbaum. PDF (76 k)

Thomas, M.S.C. and Mareschal, D. (1996). A connectionist model of Metaphor by Pattern Completion. In Proceedings of the 18th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Erlbaum. Pp. 696-701.Computational models of consciousness:

Atkinson, A.P., Thomas, M.S.C., & Cleeremans, A. (2000). Consciousness: Mapping the theoretical landscape. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4 (10), 372-382. PDF (308 k)

Atkinson, A.P. and Thomas, M.S.C. (1999). What makes us conscious? Journal of Intelligent Systems, 9, 307-354. Abstract

Thomas, M.S.C. and Atkinson, A.P. (1999). Quantities of qualia. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 22, 169-170