One core aspect of my work is to advance our understanding of the monitoring functions of the human brain. The capacity for monitoring and control is often referred to as metacognition and plays a fundamental role in education, learning, decision-making and memory. Deficits in accurate monitoring also play a central role in many disorders of mental health and neuropsychological syndromes.


I use a range of behavioral and cognitive neuroscience methods, including theoretical and computational modeling of behavior, functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion spectrum imaging (DSI), high-density electroencephalography (hdEEG), eye-tracking, sleep physiological recordings and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). 

Recent interrelated topical areas of interest have included mind-wandering, the role of prefrontal and frontopolar cortical networks in high-level control functions, theoretical modeling of metacognitive accuracy, neurophysiology and neurochemistry of changes in cognition during sleep, and the neurobiology of consciousness. 

Please use the submenu links under the Research menu above to find out more about a specific topic of research. 

Featured publications:

Medial and lateral networks in anterior prefrontal cortex support metacognitive ability for memory and perception

Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Gorgolewski, K., & Margulies, D. M.

The Journal of Neuroscience, October 2013



Convergent evidence indicates that frontopolar Brodmann area 10, and more generally the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC), supports the human capacity to monitor and reflect on cognition and experience. An important unanswered question, however, is whether aPFC is a homogeneous region that supports a general-purpose metacognitive ability or whether there could be regional specialization within aPFC with respect to specific types of metacognitive processes. Previous studies suggest that the lateral and medial subdivisions within aPFC may support metacognitive judgments of moment-to-moment perceptual processes and assessments of information from memory stored over longer time scales, respectively. Here we directly compared intraindividual variability in metacognitive capacity for perceptual decisions and memorial judgments and used resting-state functional connectivity(rs-fcMRI)to relate this variability to the connectivity of the medial and lateral regions of aPFC.We found a behavioral dissociation in metacognitive ability for perceptual and memorial judgments. Furthermore, functional connectivity analysis revealed distinct patterns of connectivity that correlated with individual differences in each domain. Metacognitive ability for perceptual decisions was associated with greater connectivity between lateral regions of aPFC and right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral putamen,right caudate, and thalamus, whereas metacognitive ability for memory retrieval predicted greater connectivity between medial aPFC and the right central precuneus and intraparietal sulcus/inferior parietal lobule. Together, these results suggest that an individual’s capacity for accurate introspection in the domains of perception and memory is related to the functional integrity of unique neural networks anchored in the medial and lateral regions of the aPFC.

Regional white matter variation associated with domain-specific metacognitive accuracy

Baird, B., Cieslak, M., Grafton, S., & Schooler, J.W.

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2015



The neural mechanisms that mediate metacognitive ability (the capacity to accurately reflect on oneʼs own cognition and experience) remain poorly understood. An important question is whether metacognitive capacity is a domain-general skill supported by a core neuroanatomical substrate or whether regionally specific neural structures underlie accurate reflection in different cognitive domains. Providing preliminary support for the latter possibility, recent findings have shown that individual differences in metacognitive ability in the domains of memory and perception are related to variation in distinct gray matter volume and resting-state functional connectivity. The current investigation sought to build on these findings by evaluating how metacognitive ability in these domains is related to variation in white matter microstructure. We quantified metacognitive ability across memory and perception domains and used diffusion spectrum imaging to examine the relation between high-resolution measurements of white matter microstructure and individual differences in metacognitive accuracy in each domain. We found that metacognitive accuracy for perceptual decisions and memory were uncorrelated across individuals and that metacognitive accuracy in each domain was related to variation in white matter microstructure in distinct brain areas. Metacognitive accuracy for perceptual decisions was associated with increased diffusion anisotropy in white matter underlying the ACC, whereas metacognitive accuracy for memory retrieval was associated with increased diffusion anisotropy in the white matter extending into the inferior parietal lobule. Together, these results extend previous findings linking metacognitive ability in the domains of perception and memory to variation in distinct brain structures and connections.

The decoupled mind: Mind-wandering disrupts cortical phase-locking to perceptual events

Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Lutz, A., Schooler, J. W.

The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2014



The mind flows in a “stream of consciousness,” which often neglects immediate sensory input in favor of focusing on intrinsic, self-generated thoughts or images. Although considerable research has documented the disruptive influences of task-unrelated thought for perceptual processing and task performance, the brain dynamics associated with these phenomena are not well understood. Here we investigate the possibility, suggested by several convergent lines of research, that task-unrelated thought is associated with a reduction in the trial-to-trial phase consistency of the oscillatory neural signal in response to perceptual input. Using an experience sampling paradigm coupled with continuous high-density electroencephalography, we observed that task-unrelated thought was associated with a reduction of the P1 ERP, replicating prior observations that mind-wandering is accompanied by a reduction of the brain-evoked response to sensory input. Time–frequency analysis of the oscillatory neural response revealed a decrease in theta-band cortical phase-locking, which peaked over parietal scalp regions. Furthermore, we observed that task-unrelated thought impacted the oscillatory mode of the brain during the initiation of a task-relevant action, such that more cortical processing was required to meet task demands. Together, these findings document that the attenuation of perceptual processing that occurs during task-unrelated thought is associated with a reduction in the temporal fidelity with which the brain responds to a stimulus and suggest that increased neural processing may be required to recouple attention to a task. More generally, these data provide novel confirmatory evidence for the mechanisms through which attentional states facilitate the neural processing of sensory input.

The energy landscape of neurophysiological activity implicit in brain network structure

Gu, S., Cieslak, M., Baird, B., Muldoon, S., Grafton, S., Pasqualetti, F., & Bassett, D. S.

Scientific Reports, February 2018



A critical mystery in neuroscience lies in determining how anatomical structure impacts the complex functional dynamics of the brain. How does large-scale brain circuitry constrain states of neuronal activity and transitions between those states? We address these questions using a maximum entropy model of brain dynamics informed by white matter tractography. We demonstrate that the most probable brain states – characterized by minimal energy – display common activation profiles across brain areas: local spatially-contiguous sets of brain regions reminiscent of cognitive systems are co-activated frequently. The predicted activation rate of these systems is highly correlated with the observed activation rate measured in a separate resting state fMRI data set, validating the utility of the maximum entropy model in describing neurophysiological dynamics. This approach also offers a formal notion of the energy of activity within a system, and the energy of activity shared between systems. We observe that within- and between-system energies cleanly separate cognitive systems into distinct categories, optimized for differential contributions to integrated versus segregated function. These results support the notion that energetic and structural constraints circumscribe brain dynamics, offering insights into the roles that cognitive systems play in driving whole-brain activation patterns.

The neural correlates of dreaming

Francesca Siclari*, Benjamin Baird*, Lampros Perogamvros, Giulio Bernardi, Joshua J LaRocque, Brady Riedner, Melanie Boly Bradley R Postle & Giulio Tononi
*Co-first author

Nature Neuroscience, April 2017 



Consciousness never fades during waking. However, when awakened from sleep, we sometimes recall dreams and sometimes recall no experiences. Traditionally, dreaming has been identified with rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep, characterized by wake-like, globally ‘activated’, high-frequency electroencephalographic activity. However, dreaming also occurs in non-REM (NREM) sleep, characterized by prominent low-frequency activity. This challenges our understanding of the neural correlates of conscious experiences in sleep. Using high-density electroencephalography, we contrasted the presence and absence of dreaming in NREM and REM sleep. In both NREM and REM sleep, reports of dream experience were associated with local decreases in low-frequency activity in posterior cortical regions. High-frequency activity in these regions correlated with specific dream contents. Monitoring this posterior ‘hot zone’ in real time predicted whether an individual reported dreaming or the absence of dream experiences during NREM sleep, suggesting that it may constitute a core correlate of conscious experiences in sleep.

Frequent lucid dreaming associated with increased functional connectivity between frontopolar cortex and temporoparietal association areas

Benjamin Baird, Anna Castelnovo, Olivia Gosseries & Giulio Tononi
Scientific Reports, December 2018



Humans typically lack awareness that they are dreaming while dreaming. However, at times a remarkable exception occurs and reflective consciousness can be regained while dreaming, referred to as lucid dreaming. While most individuals experience lucid dreams rarely there is substantial variance in lucid dream frequency. The neurobiological basis of lucid dreaming is unknown, but evidence points to involvement of anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) and parietal cortex. This study evaluated the neuroanatomical/neurofunctional correlates of frequent lucid dreams and specifically whether functional connectivity of aPFC is associated with frequent lucid dreams. We analyzed structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging from an exceptional sample of fourteen individuals who reported ≥3 lucid dreams/week and a control group matched on age, gender and dream recall that reported ≤1 lucid dream/year. Compared to controls, the frequent lucid dream group showed significantly increased resting-state functional connectivity between left aPFC and bilateral angular gyrus, bilateral middle temporal gyrus and right inferior frontal gyrus, and higher node degree and strength in left aPFC. In contrast, no significant differences in brain structure were observed. Our results suggest that frequent lucid dreaming is associated with increased functional connectivity between aPFC and temporoparietal association areas, regions normally deactivated during sleep.