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Beth Jefferies
Professor

Profile

Biography

Beth Jefferies completed an MA in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford and a PhD in Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol. She then moved to the University of Manchester in 2003, where she worked as an RCUK Research Fellow investigating disorders of semantic cognition and language following stroke and dementia. During these years, she started to use complementary neuroscientific methods (transcranial magnetic stimulation; functional neuroimaging) to investigate hypotheses about the neural basis of semantic cognition and language that emerged from the ongoing patient studies. In 2007, she moved to the Department of Psychology at the University of York.

Beth's current work examines the large-scale neural organisation of memory-guided and controlled cognition, focussing on the flexible patterns of connectivity that sustain these states using multiple methods, including task-based fMRI, intrinsic connectivity and the evolution of cortical processing over time (using magnetoencephalography). She is applying these methods to understand how we retrieve different meanings for words and objects depending on our current goals, or the context in which we encounter them, and how this changes in stroke aphasia. She is also comparing the neural basis of externally-oriented semantic tasks with internal meaningful states like mind-wandering. 

Career

  • MA in Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford
  • PhD University of Bristol
  • RCUK Research Fellowship, University of Manchester

Research

Overview

Research interests

  • Topics: Neural basis of memory, language and cognitive control; functions of default mode network; brain topography; stroke.
  • Methods: MRI; connectivity; neuropsychology; magnetoencephalography; transcranial magnetic stimulation.
  • View my profile on ResearcherID

Projects

Neural basis of flexible semantic cognition

For any concept, we have knowledge about diverse features – for example, a dog is furry, can chase rabbits, and is “man’s best friend”. How, at a specific moment, do we flexibly retrieve relevant conceptual knowledge that suits our current goals and context? 

Our research examines the cognitive and brain mechanisms that promote flexible semantic retrieval. We link controlled semantic cognition to changes in neural representation and connectivity within large-scale distributed networks. Our recent work has shown that semantic control recruits brain regions which are juxtaposed between default mode and control networks, and that these networks are topographically organised in a systematic fashion on the cortical surface. 

Neural explanations for poor semantic cognition

We are investigating the nature of the semantic impairment in patients with different aetiologies and brain lesions to examine the neural networks underpinning (i) conceptual knowledge of words, sounds and pictures and (ii) control processes that regulate semantic processing.

We also use fMRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in healthy participants to provide convergent evidence and to extend our patient findings. Our results argue for a revised model of semantic cognition, in which brain regions beyond left inferior frontal cortex contribute to semantic control.  We also find that structural and functional disconnection within this large-scale network is critical to the emergence of semantic difficulties.

Semantic binding in phonological processing

Our studies of patients with semantic dementia and healthy volunteers suggest that word meaning contributes to phonological coherence. When semantic binding is weak, phonological errors such as spoonerisms (e.g., “dart, hog” produced as “heart, dog”) become more frequent in verbal short-term memory and other tasks like paced reading that require rapid serial production. These findings help to constrain models of the interaction between phonology and semantics.

Grants

  • European Research Council Consolidator grant: FLEXSEM: Graded constraints in semantic cognition: How do we retrieve knowledge in a flexible way? EUR 2M to E. Jefferies. April 2018-September 2024. (Project number 771863).
  • Dunhill Medical Trust: Understanding the significance of age-related declines in spontaneous thought for normal functioning in daily life. £37k to J. Smallwood and E. Jefferies. January 2015-December 2017.
  • Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders, Wellcome/University of York: Deficits of episodic and semantic memory in aphasia. £130k to E. Jefferies. January 2014-March 2017.
  • Stroke Association: Direct current stimulation and rehabilitation of comprehension deficits in stroke aphasia. £210k to E. Jefferies and M.A. Lambon Ralph. July 2013-October 2017. (Ref. TSA/12/02).
  • European Research Council Starting grant: SEMBIND: Bedding wells or wedding bells? Lexical and semantic influences on phoneme binding. EUR 691k to E. Jefferies. January 2012-July 2017 (Project number 283530).
  • BBSRC project grant: When and where do you know what you know? fMRI-guided MEG and TMS studies of semantic cognition. £408k to E. Jefferies, P. Cornelissen and A. Ellis. March 2012 – November 2015. (Ref. BB/J006963/1)
  • Research into Ageing: Deficits of semantic cognition in stroke aphasia: Underlying causes and ameliorating factors. £69k: October 2009-2012 (Ref. 335).
  • MRC programme grant: Pathfound: Revealing the neural basis of semantic memory and its breakdown in semantic dementia and stroke aphasia. £807k to M. A. Lambon Ralph, E. Jefferies, K. Patterson, T. T. Rogers & G. Parker, May 2006 – April 2011 (Ref. G0501632)
  • Wellcome project grant: The neural basis of semantic memory: A transcranial magnetic stimulation investigation. £141k to E. Jefferies, M.A. Lambon Ralph, S. Hamdy, J. Rothwell, March 2006 – March 2010 (Ref. 078734/Z/05/Z)
  • ESRC project grant: Lexical and semantic binding of phonology in verbal short-term memory. £46k to E. Jefferies, C. Frankish and M.A. Lambon Ralph, May 2005 – April 2007 (Ref. RES-000-22-1255)

Collaborators

  • Becky Jackson, University of York
  • Jonathan Smallwood, Queen’s University, Canada
  • Matt Lambon Ralph and Ajay Halai, University of Cambridge
  • Daniel Margulies, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris
  • Boris Bernhardt, Montreal Neurological Institute
  • Xiuyi Wang; Meichao Zhang; Yi Du, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Piers Cornelissen, University of Northumbria
  • Theo Karapanagiotidis, University of Sussex
  • Cathy Price, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL
  • Michel Thiebaut de Schotten, Bordeaux

Available PhD research projects

I am keen to hear from potential PhD students interested in the neural basis of semantic cognition, memory-guided cognition or cognitive control, and who wish to undertake neuroimaging and/or TMS studies.

Publications

Selected publications

See York Research Database

Teaching

Undergraduate

  • Perception and Cognition Year 1 (Undergraduate core module) 2010-current
  • Perception and Cognition Year 2 (Undergraduate core module) 2007-current

Postgraduate

  • Topics in Cognitive Neuroscience (MSc) 2008-current
  • Topics in Psychological Research (Postgraduate taught modules) 2011-current

 

External activities

Memberships

Honours and awards

  • Mid-Career prize
    British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience (2022)
  • Cortex Prize
    Federation of European Societies of Neuropsychology (2010)
  • Elizabeth Warrington Prize
    British Neuropsychological Society (2008)
  • BPS Award
    Outstanding Doctoral Research Contributions to Psychology (2004)

Editorial duties

  • Journal of Neuropsychology (Associate Editor)
  • PeerJ (Action Editor)

Contact details

Beth Jefferies
Professor
Department of Psychology
Room PS/E007

Tel: 01904 324368