Cognitive neuroscientist

Research Fellow at University College London

Using neuroimaging to map how we make decisions in the face of danger

Jessica McFadyen


Jessica is a cognitive neuroscientist investigating the brain networks that underlie how we perceive threats and make decisions. She is currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research in London, under the supervision of Professor Ray Dolan. Jessica uses a combination of computational modelling and magnetoencephalography (MEG) to determine how positive and negative scenarios are rapidly played out in the brain. She is interested in relating this to individual differences in trait anxiety.

Before moving to the UK, Jessica studied a Bachelor of Psychological Science at the University of Queensland, Australia. After being awarded Honours Class I, Jessica embarked on a PhD at the affiliated Queensland Brain Institute. Here, she was supervised by Associate Professor Marta Garrido and Professor Jason Mattingley. Jessica gained expertise in electroencephalography (EEG), MEG, fMRI, and diffusion MRI tractography analyses. She explored the anatomy and function of fast pathways to the amygdala that carry visual information about threats.

Jessica's academic publications can be found online. The data and analysis code from her first-authored experiments are also freely available. Jessica is passionate about using game-like experiments to study human behaviour, online and in the lab, and creates video games in her spare time. She is also an avid musician, which drives her curiosity about emotion in the brain.



Authors Year Title Journal Link
McFadyen, J., Tsuchiya, N., Mattingley, J. B., & Garrido, M. I. 2022 Surprising threats accelerate conscious perception Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience Read here
Kalhan, S., McFadyen, J., Tsuchiya, N., & Garrido, M. I. 2022 Neural and computational processes of accelerated perceptual awareness and decisions: A 7T fMRI study Human Brain Mapping Read here
McFadyen, J., Liu, Y., & Dolan, R. J. 2021 Differential replay for reward and punishment paths predicts approach and avoidance bioRxiv Read here
McFadyen, J., Nolan, C., Pinocy, E., Buteri, D., & Baumann, O. 2021 Doorways do not always cause forgetting: A multimodal investigation BMC Psychology Read here
Baumann, O., McFadyen, J., & Humphreys, M. S. 2020 Behavioral and neural effects of familiarization on object-background associations Frontiers in Psychology Read here
McFadyen, J., Dolan, R. J., & Garrido, M. I. 2020 The influence of subcortical shortcuts on disordered sensory and cognitive processing Nature Reviews Neuroscience Read here
Baumann, O., Crawshaw, E., & McFadyen, J. 2019 Survival of the fittest: Increased stimulus competition during encoding results in fewer but more robust memory traces Frontiers in Psychology Read here
McFadyen, J. 2019 Investigating the Subcortical Route to the Amygdala Across Species and in Disordered Fear Responses Journal of Experimental Neuroscience Read here
McFadyen, J., Mattingley, J. B., & Garrido, M. I. 2019 An afferent white matter pathway from the pulvinar to the amygdala facilitates fear recognition eLife Read here
Baumann, O., Vromen, J. M. G., Cheung, A., McFadyen, J., Ren, Y., & Guo, C. C. 2018 Neural correlates of temporal complexity and synchrony during audiovisual correspondence detection eNeuro Read here
McFadyen, J., Mermillod, M., Mattingley, J. B., Halász, V., & Garrido, M. I. 2017 A rapid subcortical amygdala route for faces irrespective of spatial frequency and emotion Journal of Neuroscience Read here
Bret, A., Beffara, B., McFadyen, J., & Mermillod, M. 2017 Right wing authoritarianism is associated with race bias in face detection PloS One Read here
Bednark, J. G., Ponnian, S. K., Palghat, K., McFadyen, J., & Cunnington, R. 2015 Identity-specific predictions and implicit measures of agency Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice Read here
Cao, Y., Contreras-Huerta, L. S., McFadyen, J., & Cunnington, R. 2015 Racial bias in neural response to others' pain is reduced with other-race contact Cortex Read here
Poonian, S. K, McFadyen, J., Ogden, J., & Cunnington, R. 2015 Implicit agency in observed actions: evidence for N1 suppression of tones caused by self-made and observed actions Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Read here

Public Engagement

Authors Year Title Outlet Link
Baumann, O. & McFadyen, J. 2021 It's not just doorways that make us forget what we came for in the next room The Conversation Read here


Authors Year Title Journal Link
McFadyen, J. 2019 Shortcuts for fear in hierarchical visual systems University of Queensland (PhD Thesis) Read here
McFadyen, J. 2014 The effects of caricatured faces on neural signatures of empathy University of Queensland (Bachelor of Psychological Science, Honours I) Read here



Risk-Taking Game

Screenshot from risky decision making experiment

This repository contains the code used to run and analyse an experiment, currently in progress. In this experiment, participants memorised different sequences of images, each with their own point value. Participants then play a game where they must choose between a risky and safe option, aiming to maximise the number of points gained each time.

Conscious Perception Experiment

Experiment set-up for continuous flash suppression

This repository contains the code used to run and analyse an experiment, currently written up as a preprint. In this experiment, participants we used continuous flash suppression (a mirror technique that makes stimuli invisible) to see whether surprising neutral or surprising fearful faces broke into conscious perception faster.

Tractography Experiment

White matter tracts connecting the superior colliculus, pulvinar, and amygdala

This repository contains the code used to analyse data from the Human Connectome Project, the results of which were published in eLife in 2019. We reconstructed white matter tracts from the brainstem to the thalamus, and from the thalamus to the amygdala. We found that people with stronger fibre density along these tracts were better at recognising fearful faces and had stronger forward-flowing neural activity.

Curriculum Vitae

Download CV as PDF


Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry
and Ageing Research

Russell Square House
10-12 Russell Square
London, WC1B 5EH
United Kingdom

Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging
Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FIL)

UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
University College London
12 Queen Square
London WC1N 3AR