Michael C. Anderson is a Senior Scientist and Programme Leader at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge. Anderson is a fellow of the Psychonomic Society and served on the Society’s Governing Board (2009-2015). Anderson is also a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the Society for Experimental Psychologists (2018), and is actively involved in the Cognitive Neuroscience and Memory Disorders Research Societies His work on motivated and adaptive forgetting has had a broad impact on research in the diverse subfields of psychology, while also receiving significant interest from the popular media, including coverage by NPR, PBS, New York Times, Scientific American, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Newsweek, BBC, Time Magazine, Forbes, and numerous international outlets.
Anderson’s research focuses on fundamental mechanisms of memory, attention, and cognitive control, and their interaction. A central observation is that memory, like other aspects of cognition and behaviour, poses problems of control. Anderson combines behavioural, haemodynamic (fMRI) and electrophysiological (EEG) methods to investigate the cognitive and neural mechanisms by which people suppress distracting and unwanted memories, especially the role of frontally-mediated inhibitory control mechanisms in achieving both incidental and motivated forgetting. Although focused on basic mechanisms, this work is motivated by the desire to improve mental health: The program studies healthy volunteers and patients with difficulties controlling intrusive memories and thoughts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. In recent work, Anderson and colleagues have developed an animal model of retrieval-induced forgetting processes first discovered in humans, opening the door to studying memory inhibition at the neurobiological level. The broad aim is to develop a multi-level neurocognitive model of memory control that spans from cognition to synapses, and that has a direct impact on the lives of those suffering from unwelcome memories and thoughts.
The ability to contribute to understanding how we control memory ultimately rests on the impact of brilliant and supportive mentors and colleagues who have shaped its development. Anderson did his doctoral training at UCLA (1988-1994), where his love of science flourished under the creativity, rigor, warmth, and professional values of inspiring mentors, Robert Bjork and Elizabeth Bjork. A McDonnell-Pew post-doctoral fellowship under the mentorship of Arthur Shimamura at UC Berkeley transformed his focus to cognitive neuroscience (1994-1995), prior to his becoming an Assistant Professor of psychology at the University of Oregon in 1995; an Associate Professor in 2001, and a Full Professor in 2008. Oregon, a hotbed of attention research, powerfully shaped Anderson’s view of memory retrieval as attentional focusing, inspired by colleagues Mike Posner, Doug Hintzman, and Steve Keele. Anderson took on the role of Chair of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 2007, where he came to appreciate the virtues of Single Malt Whiskey and Haggis, powering the first edition of his best-selling textbook Memory, with Alan Baddeley and Michael Eysenck. In 2009, he joined the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge, knee-deep in aspiring, decent, and ground-breaking colleagues and a vibrant atmosphere of innovation. In 2019, he swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth, and became a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom.