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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Executive Functions Program


This program supports basic neuroscience research on multiple aspects of cognition, with an emphasis on executive functions.  Areas of interest include mechanistic studies of attention, cognitive control, decision making, categorization, action planning/monitoring, timing, reasoning, and motivation.  Deficits in executive function are associated with many psychiatric disorders, hence NIMH’s interest in supporting basic research in this area. Questions include but are not limited to: What neural systems underlie their function? What are the rules by which neural systems dynamically organize to support cognitive function and flexibility?  How do these neural systems interact in the normally functioning organism and how do abnormalities in these interactions lead to disruption of specific aspects of cognitive function?  Purely computational work is supported if it makes substantive contact with behavioral, physiological, and neuroscience evidence.  We encourage the use of behavioral tasks consistent with assessment measures of RDoC constructs (PDF).  Research related to the areas of learning and memory is supported in the Learning and Memory Program within this branch.

Areas of Emphasis

  • Multidisciplinary approaches to identify the fundamental architecture and computational properties of normative human cognition (e.g., attention, problem solving, timing, cognitive control)
  • Causal manipulations of neural circuits that support cognitive function
  • Studies that connect multi-level components of neural systems that support cognition function (e.g., cell type, transcriptome, transmitter, circuit, network)
  • Research on the development of neural systems supporting executive functions
  • Combined empirical and computational (and/or theoretical) approaches for understanding how cognitive properties emerge in neural systems
  • Characterization and determinants of individual differences in human cognition, particularly differences relevant to understanding vulnerability to mental disorders
  • Studies of integrative networks supporting various aspects of higher-level cognitive function
  • Studies of neural systems supporting motivation

Areas of Lower Priority

  • Projects with a primary focus on sensory representations and/or multi-sensory integration 
  • Projects that rely on a single level of analysis
  • Projects proposing to study animal models of maladaptive eating habits in humans   
  • Projects that investigate candidate genes lacking genome-wide association

Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss their proposals with the Institute contact listed below prior to the submission of their application to ascertain that their proposed work is aligned with NIMH funding priorities.

Applications should adhere to published recommendations detailed in a notice in the NIH Guide (NOT-14-004 ) and summarized in Enhancing the Reliability of NIMH-Supported Research through Rigorous Study Design and Reporting on the NIMH website.


Andrew F. Rossi, Ph.D.
Program Chief
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7194, MSC 9637