Masud Husain stood in a quad of an Oxford college


Masud Husain (New, 1981), gives us an insight into the biology behind 'laziness'

Published: 13 January 2020

Author: Zoe Burns


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Have you ever wondered why some people seem highly motivated whereas others appear to be lacking in such traits? Masud Husain, Professor of Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience gives us an insight into his research ahead of his talk at Meeting Minds in Europe in March 2020.

Your Meeting Minds talk is When the spark goes out: the neurology of motivation and apathy. What motivates you and your research?  

I’m curious. When I come across something that I find interesting but without a good answer, I’ll think about whether we might have the tools in my group to answer that question. I only stumbled across apathy when I met a patient who had suddenly become apathetic because of highly focal brain damage. That just stimulated me to think whether there might actually be a biological basis for motivation and whether we might be able to treat loss of motivation – apathy. It turns out that the answer to both questions is “Yes, but it might not be straightforward”. That makes me motivated!

How would you like your research to help improve people’s lives in the future? 

I’d like to think that our research will improve the understanding of how human brains work and lead to new treatments for disorders of motivation and memory.

Meeting Minds has a very busy programme with several sessions running simultaneously.  What’s your elevator pitch to convince guests to book onto your talk? 

Ever wondered why sometimes the spark just doesn’t seem to be there? Why you can’t be bothered or don’t think you’ve got the energy? It turns out that you’re not alone. Apathy is a big problem. But whereas in most people it isn’t permanent, some patients with brain disorders develop loss of motivation as part of their illness. They hold the clue to how normal brains generate motivation and how apathy might be treated. Come and find out more about how Oxford researchers are researching motivation and apathy –  in health and disease.

What do you hope people will take away from your talk?

Not everyone who seems ‘lazy’ is lazy. There is a biology underlying some people’s lack of motivation. Neuroscience and neurology has huge potential to understand human brains, their actions as well as inactions.

What are you looking forward to most about our Meeting Minds event?  

Meeting interesting people who do something different from me. I’ve often found Berlin is a great, open-minded place to do that.

How did you know you wanted to be a scientist? 

When I found out so many explanations turned out to be unsatisfactory, particularly when it comes to understanding brain function – and how it goes wrong in brain diseases.

What has been your academic journey to get to where you are today? 

I nearly gave up science after returning to clinical training. It just seemed too difficult to combine a life of doing good science and clinical medicine. Luckily, The Wellcome Trust took a punt and supported me with a junior level fellowship. That gave me the opportunity for the first time to do neuroscience research in patients. I had a couple of lucky breaks which led to some impactful papers and, in turn, this allowed me to have a dual role of being both a clinician and a scientist, first at Imperial College London, then UCL and now at Oxford. It isn’t easy trying effectively to run two careers. But I’ve been helped enormously by The Wellcome Trust which has generously funded my research for 20 years.

What are your three favourite things about Oxford? 

Clever, challenging people; excellent, supportive colleagues; wonderful traditions and settings in which to work.

Book your place to hear Masud Husain's session When the spark goes out: the neurology of motivation and apathy in Barcelona on 19 March and Berlin on 21 March, part of Meeting Minds in Europe 2020

Masud Husain (New College, 1981) is Professor of Neurology & Cognitive Neuroscience and Professorial Fellow at New College. After obtaining his DPhil at Oxford, Masud went on to postdoctoral work at MIT before completing clinical training at Oxford. He was Reader at Imperial College London and then Professor of Neurology at University College London. At UCL he led the Department of Brain Repair & Rehabilitation and was Deputy Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

His current research focuses on mechanisms underlying motivation and memory in healthy people and patients with neurological disorders. His work is funded by a Principal Research Fellowship from The Wellcome Trust. 

Follow Masud on Twitter @MasudHusain.