Benjamin Wilson

Assistant Professor (beginning March 2020)

Emory University, Department of Psychology

Assistant Professor (beginning March 2020)

Yerkes National Primate Center, Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience

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Dr. Wilson will be arriving at Emory in 2020 and will be recruiting graduate students for the 2020/2021 academic year.

Benjamin Wilson received his BSc in Psychology from the University of York, UK, in 2005, before completing an MSc in Evolutionary Psychology from the University of Liverpool, UK, in 2008. In 2014, he completed his PhD in Neuroscience at Newcastle University, using behavioral and neuroimaging approaches to directly compare artificial grammar learning in humans and macaque and marmoset monkeys. After a short postdoctoral position, he was awarded a Sir Henry Wellcome Research Fellowship to study the cognitive and neural systems supporting language-relevant processes in humans and monkeys. He will join the Emory Faculty in 2020.


As a comparative cognitive scientist, my research focusses on questions about what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom, and conversely, where might we have more in common with nonhuman primates than we might expect?

I am particularly interested in the evolution of language, which is a human ability that appears remarkably different to forms of communication available to other nonhuman animals. However, my research asks whether some aspects of language may be supported by domain-general systems that might also exist in other species. My previous research has shown that some of the cognitive mechanisms and neural systems that support and underpin human linguistic abilities may be shared with closely related nonhuman animals. 

Research in the Wilson lab has a number of key goals. Firstly, we aim to identify core cognitive computations that support aspects of language learning and processing (using statistical learning, sequence processing, implicit learning and memory tasks). These can then be directly related to linguistic abilities in healthy populations of human adults and children, as well as clinical and subclinical populations (e.g., aphasia, dyslexia, etc.). The lab uses a range of experimental paradigms to test humans and nonhuman primates using the same behavioral methods (e.g., habituation/dishabituation paradigms, eye tracking, testing with touchscreen computers). These studies aim to help us understand which cognitive abilities might be evolutionarily conserved across species, and which might represent unique human specializations. Finally, we use neuroscientific approaches (including neuroimaging such as fMRI, DTI and EEG, and brain stimulation like TMS or TUS) to directly compare brain responses in humans and monkeys, to identify whether similar behaviors in these species are supported by the same or different neural systems.

This work has the potential not only to provide insights about human evolution and the origins of language, but identifying evolutionarily conserved abilities is also critical to develop nonhuman primates as an animal model system in which to better understand these shared cognitive and neural systems.


Wilson, B., Spierings, M., Ravignani, A., Mueller, J. L., Mintz, T. H., Wijnen, F., van der Kant, A., Smith, K. & Rey, A. (2018). Non-adjacent dependency learning in humans and other animals. Topics in Cognitive Sciences.

Wilson, B. & Petkov, C. I. (2018). From evolutionarily conserved frontal regions for sequence processing to human innovations for syntax. Interaction Studies.

Arbib, M. A, Aboitiz, F., Burkart, J., Corballis, M., Coudé, G., Hecht, E., Liebal, K., Myowa-Yamakoshi, M., Pustejovsky, J., Putt, S., Rossano, F., Russon, A. E., Schoenemann, P. T., Seifert, U., Semendeferi, K., Sinha, C., Stout, D., Volterra, V., Wacewicz, S. & Wilson, B. (2018). The Comparative Neuroprimatology 2018 Road Map for Research on How the Brain Got Language. Interaction Studies.

Milne, A. E.*, Wilson, B.*, & Christiansen, M. H. (2018). Structured sequence learning across sensory modalities in humans and nonhuman primates. Current Opinions in Behavioural Sciences.

Wilson, B. & Petkov, C. I. “Relational Knowledge and the Origins of Language” in Seyfarth, R., Cheney, D. & Platt, M. eds. The Social Origins of Language. Princeton University Press. (2018).

Milne, A. E., Petkov, C. I. & Wilson, B. (2018). Auditory and visual sequence learning in humans and monkeys using an artificial grammar learning paradigm. Neuroscience

Cope, T.*, Wilson, B.*, Dean, L. R., Robson, H., Petkov, C. I. and Griffiths, T. (2017). Artificial grammar learning in vascular and progressive non-fluent aphasias. Neuropsychologia, 104, 201-213.

Kikuchi, Y., Attaheri, A., Wilson, B., Rhone, A. E., Nourski, K. V., Gander, P. E., Kovach, C. K., Kawasaki, H., Griffiths, T. D., Howard, M. A. & Petkov, C. I. (2017). Sequence learning modulates neural responses and oscillatory coupling in human and monkey auditory cortex. PLOS Biology, 15(4).

Wilson, B., Marslen-Wilson, W. D. & Petkov, C. I. (2017). Conserved sequence processing in primate frontal cortex. Trends in Neurosciences, 40, 2.

Slater, H., Milne, A. E., Wilson, B., Joly, O., Muers, R. S., Balazeau, F., Hunter, D., Theile, A., Griffiths, T., Petkov, C. I. (2016). Individually customizable non-invasive head immobilisation system for non-human primates with an option for voluntary engagement. Journal of Neuroscience Methods.

Wilson, B., Kikuchi, Y., Sun, L., Hunter, D., Dick, F., Smith, K., Thiele, A., Griffiths, T., Marslen-Wilson, W. D., Petkov, C. I. (2015). Auditory sequence processing reveals evolutionarily conserved regions of frontal cortex in macaques and humans. Nature Communications, 6.

Wilson, B., Smith, K. & Petkov, C. I. (2015). Mixed-complexity artificial grammar learning in humans and macaque monkeys: evaluating learning strategies. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 41, 568-578.

Attaheri, A., Kikuchi, Y., Milne, A. E., Wilson, B., Alter, K. & Petkov, C. I. (2014). EEG potentials associated with artificial grammar learning in the primate brain. Brain and Language, 148, 74-80.

Wilson, B., Slater, H., Kikuchi, Y., Milne, A. E., Marslen-Wilson, W. D., Smith, K. & Petkov, C. I. (2013). Auditory artificial grammar learning in macaque and marmoset monkeys. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 48, 18825-18835.

Petkov, C. I. & Wilson, B. (2012). On the pursuit of the brain network for proto-syntactic learning in nonhuman primates: Conceptual issues and neurobiological hypotheses. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 367, 2077-2088.

Wilson, B., & Petkov, C. I. (2011). Communication and the primate brain: Insights from neuroimaging studies in humans, chimpanzees and macaques. Human Biology, 82, 2, 153-173.

Petkov, C. I., & Wilson, B. (2011). Functional imaging of brain regions sensitive to communication sounds in primates. Interspeech 2010, conference proceedings.

Platek, S. M., Krill, A. L. & Wilson, B. (2008). Implicit trustworthiness ratings of self-resembling faces activate brain centers involved in reward. Neuropsychologia, 47, 1, 289-293.

* Authors contributed equally/joint first author publications.