Prof. Michael Thomas

Michael S. C. Thomas is a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Birkbeck, University of London and is the Director of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience.

Research Interests

His primary interests are in cognitive and language development, both in ‎terms of developmental processes in children and in the final cognitive structures they produce ‎in the adult.‎ He currently leads the Developmental Neurocognition lab, as part of Birkbeck’s Centre for ‎Brain and Cognitive ‎Development.‎‎

The goal of his research is to understand the nature and causes of cognitive variability – that is, why children become cleverer as they get older, why children of the same age can differ in their ability, and what causes the extremes of variation such as giftedness and developmental disabilities. In many cases, this leads to a consideration of the nature-nurture question – the respective contributions of genetics and the environment both to driving development and to producing differences in developmental trajectories between individuals.

His research in educational neuroscience has addressed several topics. His main position is that current psychological theory is in some respects not fit for purpose with respect to education, because it has not been sufficiently influenced by an understanding of how the brain works. His work has addressed overviews of the field and its general direction (e.g., here, here, here), including current debates in the field (see here). He has published work examining how our current understanding of sensitive periods in brain development might influence syllabus design and educational policy, including the education of adults (see here, here, and here). He has also discussed how fields such as genetics and methods such as computational modelling may advance the field of educational neuroscience, contributing to the recent volume edited by Mareschal and colleagues entitled Educational Neuroscience. One of his current projects, funded by the Department of Health and led by Imperial College, is investigating the effect of mobile phone use on teenage brain development.

Finally, Michael has other lines of research that focus on developmental disorders of language and cognition (e.g., see here), and on general developmental theory (see here and here). One of his recent projects in this field, funded by the ESRC, investigated the causes of problems in productive vocabulary in children (so called ‘word finding difficulties’), and evaluated different interventions to alleviate these difficulties (see here).

Selected publications

Please see the list below for the some of Prof. Thomas’ most recent publications. More information about Prof. Thomas including a more extensive publication list can be found here.