Turnbull, Oliver

Interaction between cognitive and affective processes


Name: Oliver Tunbull
Email address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Position: Professor / Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching & Learning)
Primary affiliation: School of Psychology, Bangor University, UK (see my lab website).
Postal address: School of Psychology, Bangor University, LL57 2AS, Wales, UK.
Voice: (+44) 124 838 3670
Facsimile: (+44) 124 838 2599

My research focuses on the role of emotion in decision-making. In neurologically-normal persons, we study the phenomenon of emotion-based learning ('intuition'). In neurological patients, we study the role of emotion in false beliefs - especially in neurological patients who have either anosognosia or confabulation.

Key words: emotion; decision-making; emotion-based learning; intuition; delusional beliefs; anosognosia; confabulation.


- 1991-1995 - Ph.D, Cambridge University.
- 1988-1990 - M.Sc., University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.
- 1982-1987 - B.Sc. & B.Sc., University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Positions and Employment:
- 2005-present. Deputy Head, School of Psychology, Bangor University.
- 2001-present. Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Bangor University.
- 1998-2001. Lecturer, School of Psychology, Bangor University.
- 1994-1998. Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Aberdeen.


1) Emotion-based learning
Human beings can rapidly learn about the emotional consequences of our actions, which we use especially under conditions of high complexity and uncertainty. In particular, we are able to employ a process of 'trial action' – inhibiting real action, and running through a range of scenarios in our mind, experiencing the possible outcome of each, before choosing the most viable plan. This subjective evaluation is probably the experience which we describe as 'intuition': an emotionally-guided 'hunch' or 'gut-feeling' about what action to take – where typically we have little access to the basis for our choice. Emotion-based learning appears to be impaired in neurological patients with lesions to the frontal lobes - perhaps especially of the ventral and medial surfaces. The most commonly-employed measure of emotion-based learning is the Iowa Gambling Task - devised by Bechara and colleagues in 1994. Our work has investigated various aspects of Gambling Task performance.

2) Anosognosia
Anosognosia is a disorder of denial of deficit (i.e. lack of awareness) after brain lesion. In the patient populations that we are most interested in, the lesion site involves the convexity surface of the right hemisphere - and denial is typically of the paralysis of the left limbs that accompany such lesions. My research has been primarily in demonstrating the range of emotional experience in anosognosia, and any possible role for emotion in anosognosia. This includes the suggestion that the lack of awareness might result from damage to an emotion-regulation system, producing an inability to tolerate the powerful emotional consequences that would follow from the patient becoming aware that they are paralysed - i.e. anosognosia as a defence.

3) Confabulation
Confabulation is a neuropsychological disorder in which the patient suggests (and defends against reasonable evidence) an account of reality which is patently false: for example that their hospital ward is actually a hotel, or that their husband is an imposter. In the patient populations that we are most interested in, the lesion site involves the medial surfaces of the frontal lobes. This is a brain region which is associated with false belief states seen in psychiatric disorders, and also seems to be important for dream generation. It is also a key brain region for the input of emotion into the decision-making process (see title 1 above). My link to the field is primarily in demonstrating a possible role for emotion in confabulatory states - most notably (but not exclusively) the suggestion that confabulations might be accepted as versions of reality because of their affective consequences. This includes the possibility that confabulations might act as a defence, in patients with emotion-regulation deficits.


1. Turnbull OH, Fotopoulou A, Solms M (2014). Anosognosia as motivated unawareness: the 'defence' hypothesis revisited. Cortex 61, 18-29.
2. Turnbull OH, Bowman CH, Shanker S, Davies JL (2014). Emotion-based learning: insights from the Iowa Gambling Task. Frontiers in Psychology 5, 162.
3. Turnbull OH, Lovett VE, Chaldecott J, Lucas MD (2014). Reports of intimate touch: erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization. Cortex 53, 146-54.
4. Salas CE, Gross JJ, Rafal RD, Viñas-Guasch N, Turnbull OH (2013). Concrete behaviour and reappraisal deficits after a left frontal stroke: a case study. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 23, 467-500.
5. Salas CE, Radovic D, Turnbull OH (2012). Inside-out: comparing internally generated and externally generated basic emotions. Emotion 12, 568-78.
6. Turnbull OH, Solms M (2007). Awareness, desire, and false beliefs: Freud in the light of modern neuropsychology. Cortex 43, 1083-90.
7. Turnbull OH, Evans CEY, Kemish K, Park S, Bowman CH (2006). A novel ‘set-shifting’ modification of the Iowa Gambling Task: Flexible emotion-based learning in schizophrenia. Neuropsychology 20, 290-298.
8. Turnbull OH, Evans CEY (2006). Preserved complex emotion-based learning in amnesia. Neuropsychologia 44, 300-306.
9. Evans CEY, Bowman CH, Turnbull OH (2005). Subjective awareness on the Iowa Gambling Task: The key role of emotional experience in schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology 27, 656-664.
10. Turnbull OH, Owen V, Evans CEY (2005). Negative emotions in anosognosia. Cortex 41, 67-75.


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