Professor Andrew Lawrence - Msc Sussex, PhD Cantab


Research group:
029 208 70712
CUBRIC, Maindy Road

Research summary

My research is in Hedonic Neuroscience and Self-Control. What are the neural correlates of pleasures, desires, fears and aversions? How do we control our appetites and fears? How do we control our selfish interests and act prosocially?

In particular, I’m interested in the psychology, neurobiology and genetics of individual differences in complex traits linked to personality and self-control. How and why do individuals vary in their temperamental emotional reactivity and self-control and how does this influence risk for mood, obesity and addictive disorders?

Other research helps to understand how social values get translated into action. This research is being undertaken in collaboration with colleagues in the Values in Action (ViA) Centre, at Cardiff University.

Teaching summary

I currently teach on PS2019 (Research design, statistics and computing) and PS3416 (Emotion: Social and neuroscience perspectives). In addition, I supervise final year projects and medical student projects related to my research interests.

Selected publications (2014 onwards)


Full list of publications


Research topics and related papers

The Neuroscience of Natural Rewards: Relevance to Addictive Drugs

Key recent research findings include:

(1) Evidence for distinct neural coding of pleasant and disgusting foods in insular cortex and pallidum of humans:

(from Beaver et al. EJN, 2007). Ongoing work is examining the neural correlates of desire and disgust for food, and how these relate to traits like impulsivity, eating disorders and obesity. In addition, we are examining the extent to which systems that evolved to mediate the disgust response to foods have been co-opted to mediate more complex forms of socio-moral disgust, and how food reward systems link with other positive emotions.

(2) How do drugs of abuse hijack brain ‘reward’ systems? The controversial incentive-sensitization theory argues that drugs of abuse sensitize brain mesolimbic systems of incentive salience (‘wanting’), leading to compulsive intake. By studying a rare group of individuals with Parkinson’s disease who develop compulsive drug use (and other impulse control problems), we provided the first evidence that addiction could result from such an incentive sensitization mechanism:

(from Evans et al. Ann Neurol, 2006). We are currently examining the extent to which such mechanisms can be applied to other addictive and impulse-control disorders (e.g. gambling and binge eating induced by dopaminergic drugs).

(3) The neurobiology of negative urgency. Urgency (the tendency to distressed-based impulsivity) is a key risk trait for addiction and impulse control. We have recently demonstrated (Boy et al. Biol Psychiatry) that individual differences in urgency are Predicted by levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the DLPFC. This provides novel insights into the role of GABA in various psychiatric disorders, including alcohol addiction. (new figure to insert).

Prosocial Neuroscience
We are interested in the neural mechanisms underpinning individual differences in empathic concern and empathic accuracy, and how these link to prosociality and caring.

For example, we have shown that so-called ‘mirror neuron’ systems at best play a limited role in empathy – probably limited to action-oriented aspects of emotion understanding (see e.g. Tavares et al., 2010 and von dem Hagen et al., 2009). Ongoing work is establishing distinct neural systems for empathic concern (ventral PFC) vs. empathic accuracy (insula). 

(from von dem Hagen et al., 2009).


Parkinson’s disease UK: Emotion Recognition in Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s UK: Impulse Control Disorders in Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s UK: A trial to assess the safety and efficacy of intermittent putamenal GDNF infusions administered via convection enhanced delivery (CED) in Parkinson’s disease

Research group

Dr Polly Peers (Postdoctoral fellow, based at MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge) ()  (Emotion Recognition in Parkinson’s disease; attentional control of emotional distraction)

Bonni Crawford (ESRC PhD student, Psychology, Cardiff University) (Social reward and punishment in the brain)

Marcel Meyer (PhD student, Psychology, Cardiff University) (Cognitive control of emotional distraction)

Jennifer Ware (PhD student, Wellcome Trust Integrative Neuroscience, Cardiff University) (Genomic imaging of smoking)

Research collaborators

Cardiff University/Internal
Petroc Sumner/Fred Boy/John Evans (GABA and impulsivity)
David Linden (Dopamine and reward, fMRI studies of craving regulation)
Kim Graham (fMRI/DTI studies of face processing and empathy)
Marianne van den Bree (MRC CNGG) (Genetics of addiction)

Prof Marcus Munafo (Bristol) (fMRI of smoking, anxiety)
Dr Andy Calder (MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge)
Dr Sadaf Farooqi (Clinical Biochemistry, Cambridge University)
Profs Paola Piccini & Andrew Lees (London) (Impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s disease)
Dr Katy Tapper (Psychology, London) 
Dr Natalia Lawrence (Exeter) (fMRI of food reward and self-control)
Huw Morris (MRC CNGG) (Genetics of impulsivity in Parkinson’s disease)

Postgraduate research interests

I’m particularly interested at the moment in supervising projects on (1) the neuroscience of ‘wanting’ and ‘liking’, and its link to addiction and obesity; (2) emotion-based dispositions to rash action (Urgency); (3) disgust; and (4) The  neurobiology of social reward and punishment and links to prosocial behaviour and empathy.  

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application here.

Current students

Bonni Crawford. Bonni is interested in social neuroscience, especially social reward and punishment mechanisms.

Marcel Meyer (jointly supervised with Natalia Lawrence). Marcel works on the cognitive control of emotional distraction using psychophysical techniques, TMS and fMRI, mainly focusing on stop-signal type tasks.

Jennifer Ware (jointly supervised with Marianne van den Bree, Marcus Munafo). Jennifer works on genomic approaches to smoking including fMRI studies

Previous students

Paula Tavares (jointly supervised with Phil Barnard, MRC CBU). Paula worked on the neural coding of emotion from motion cues using fMRI and patient-based lesion studies. She is now a postdoctoral autism researcher in Portugal.

Sean O’Sullivan (jointly with Andrew Lees, UCL). Sean worked on impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s disease. He has now returned to clinical neurology.

Andrew Evans (jointly with Andrew Lees, UCL). Andrew worked on compulsive drug use in Parkinson’s disease. He is now a senior neurologist in Australia.

Anthony Cox (jointly supervised with Andy Calder, MRC CBU). Anthony worked on the neural correlates of cross-modal integration of emotion signals from face and voice. He now works in the media.

Barney Dunn (jointly supervised with Tim Dalgeish, MRC CBU). Barney worked on interoceptive awareness and its relation to decision-making and emotion experience in health and depression. He is currently an MRC scientist at MRC CBU, Cambridge.

Ines Goerendt (Imperial College London). Ines worked on the neural correlates of reward and habit processing in Parkinson’s disease using PET. She is currently training to be a neurosurgeon in Germany.

Postgraduate education

1994: MSc Experimental Psychology (University of Sussex)

1997: PhD Experimental Psychology (University of Cambridge). Supervised by TW Robbins & BJ Sahakian

Awards/external committees

2005-present: Lifetime fellowship, Clare Hall, Cambridge University, UK

2009-present: Parkinson’s UK Research Advisory Panel


Mar 2007-present: Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, UK; Affiliate member MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics

2004-2007: MRC Programme Leader (track), MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK

2000-2004: Postdoctoral scientist, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK

1997-2000    Postdoctoral training fellowship (neuroimaging), MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, London, UK