Consciousness and Cognition

About Dr. Adrian Owen

owen, aDr. Adrian Owen is the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at Western University. He has pioneered new techniques that combine neuroimaging with neuropsychological studies to reveal the secrets of the human brain. He is also a Scientific Director of Western University's BrainsCAN initiative, which received a substantial $66 million investment from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) – the largest research grant in the university's history – providing a significant boost to ongoing research in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at Western.

In addition to discovering ways to communicate with patients who appear to be in a vegetative state, Dr. Owen has used neuroimaging to illuminate the human brain's function and structure, and challenged long-held views about brain training and intelligence. Dr. Owen revolutionized the assessment of brain function by harnessing the power of computerized cognitive testing, and is now the chief scientific officer at Cambridge Brain Sciences—a platform for tracking and optimizing cognitive performance.

Dr. Owen has studied both healthy people and people with brain injuries for over 25 years, and published research in prestigious scientific journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine, Science, Nature, and The Lancet.

He is also the author of Into the Gray Zone, which documents his ongoing quest to understand the relationship between brain, mind, and consciousness.


The Owen Lab combines neuroimaging (MRI and EEG), with neuropsychological studies in brain-injured patients and healthy participants. We seek to understand the effects of brain injury in order to improve diagnosis and early detection and to find possible new treatments.

Cognitive Function in Disorders of Consciousness

Consciousness is “the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings”
- Oxford Dictionary

Disorders of consciousness, including the vegetative state, are some of the least understood and most ethically troublesome conditions in modern medicine. The term ‘vegetative state’ describes a unique disorder in which patients who emerge from coma appear to be awake, gray zonebut show no signs of awareness. There are two different components of consciousness: wakefulness and awareness and our group deals with ques­tions such as: What if someone is aware, but cannot respond? Or what if they can, in fact, respond to a command, just not in a way we can easily detect? Many different types of injury cause disorders of consciousness and little is known about the key brain areas that are responsible for these deficits. Although the diagnosis depends crucially on there being no reproducible evidence of purposeful behaviour in response to external stimulation, our recent functional neuroimaging studies have suggested preserved cognitive function in some patients who have been diagnosed as vegetative. The findings suggests that such patients may be able to use these residual cognitive capabilities to communicate their thoughts to those around them by simply modulating their own neural activity. Understanding how the brain functions after severe injury will improve the accuracy of diagnosis and to estimate prognosis more pre­cisely. The recently published Into the Gray Zone" describes Dr. Owen’s work over the last several years to understand the relationship between brain, mind, and consciousness and the different legal and ethical questions that arise.

Test Your Brain

Cambridge Brain Sciences is a leading online brain health assessment platform based on the work of Dr. Owen to assess cognitive function using rigorously tested and scientifically proven tests of memory, attention, reasoning and planning. Cambridge Brain Sciences is headquartered in Toronto, Canada and has helped hundreds of thousands of people from 75+ countries gain greater insight into their brain health every day and used in over 300 studies published in leading academic journals over the last 25 years. In collaboration with Cambridge Brain Sciences, the Owen Lab has launched the world’s largest sleep-and-cognition study to learn the effects on our brains of sleep and sleep deprivation. The testing will be conducted entirely online at

sleep owen

 See Dr. Owen’s research website for more information about his research and a complete list of publications.