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Michael Cole

Assistant Professor


Dr. Cole's research focuses on discovering the cognitive and neural mechanisms that make human behavior uniquely flexible and intelligent. His research focuses on two broad themes. 1) Brain network mechanisms of flexible cognitive control: Flexible control – a capacity supporting adaptive, goal-directed behavior important in daily life – is affected in a variety of mental illnesses, markedly reducing quality of life. See Cole & Schneider (2007) for evidence that flexible control is implemented by a set of integrated brain regions sometimes referred to as the cognitive control network. See Cole, Pathak, et al. (2010) and Cole, Yarkoni, et al. (2012) for evidence that this network implements control via its high connectivity throughout the brain, as indexed by global brain connectivity (GBC). See Cole, Anticevic, et al. (2011) for a recent demonstration of how a breakdown in the GBC of a core node of this network may contribute to the profound cognitive control deficits associated with schizophrenia. 2) Rapid instructed task learning (RITL; "rittle") : A key aspect of flexible control is our ability to rapidly reconfigure our minds to perform a nearly infinite variety of possible tasks. For instance, you utilized RITL the first time you used a cell phone – transfering what you knew about 'land line' phones while expanding what was possible with such a device. Comprehensive understanding of this ability would have important implications for research in education, aging, and a variety of mental illnesses. See Cole, Bagic, et al. (2010) for a novel cognitive paradigm for investigating RITL, as well as evidence that RITL involves a specific shift in dynamics within prefrontal cortex. See Cole, Etzel, et al. (2011) for evidence that RITL is possible due to rapid transfer of practiced task rule representations within prefrontal cortex to novel contexts. See Cole, Laurent, & Stocco (2013) for a review of RITL findings and an integrative theory of how prefrontal cortex may implement RITL abilities and cognitive flexibility generally.

Education & Training

  • PhD
    University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University (2009)