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Neil McNaughton

Tel +64 3 479 7634

Emeritus Professor Neil McNaughton has been extensively involved in the development of Neuroscience at Otago. He was involved in the setting up of the undergraduate Neuroscience programme (the only one of its kind in New Zealand) and was director of the programme from 1991–2008. He was director of the Neuroscience Research Centre from 1991–1997 and the Neural Systems Structure and Function Research Theme from 1997–2005. He was one of the founders of the Australasian Winter Conference on Brain research and the Treasurer from 1983–1997 and a committee member until 2009.

He has acted as an External Assessor for Personal Chairs, Awards, Courses, and Promotions for the Australian National University; Indiana-Purdue University, Fort Wayne; Institute of Psychiatry, London; National University of Singapore; NHMRC Australia Fellowship; University of Canterbury; University of Hawaii; University of Hong Kong; University of Huston; and University of Auckland. He has refereed grants for 23 grant awarding bodies, papers for 110 journals, and books for 5 publishers. He is on the Editorial Advisory Board of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews and is a Founding member on the Editorial Board of Personality Neuroscience.

Neil joined the Department in 1982. He has over 40 years of university teaching experience, teaching at both graduate and undergraduate levels. He has over 50 years experience as a Neuroscience researcher in the UK, Canada and New Zealand. His research interests are multidisciplinary. He has authored over 150 papers, 7 major reviews, 2 books (one now in its 3rd edition), and 32 book chapters; and edited 5 book-length works.

Research Interests

  • Neurobiology of State and Trait Anxiety and Temporal-Frontal Lobe Interactions

Neil's research combines psychological analysis of emotion and memory with physiological analysis of the rhythmical electrical activity called “theta” in both rats and humans.

He uses the effects of anxiolytic drugs to link the psychological and physiological levels of analysis and to generalize from laboratory experiments to clinical situations. Anxiolytic drugs reduce anxiety in the clinic, independently of chemical type. He has previously shown, in rats, that they all impair theta and so the function of the temporal lobe. He used a broad range of techniques to allow both neural and psychological analysis. Single unit and evoked potential analysis mapped and assessed the functioning of neural pathways of interest; recording during psychological tasks allowed detailed pharmacological analysis. This included the use a “brain bypass” doi: 10.1002/hipo.20235 and other techniques to restore function after neural damage. Each type of analysis guided research in the other areas.

His work is now focusing on translating his previous results into a human anxiety biomarker.
doi: 10.1080/03036758.2017.1358184 Currently, he and his collaborators are investigating the pharmacology and neural control of theta recorded from frontal cortex – analyzing the human EEG for specific neural signatures of goal conflict and linking this to personality measures and the neuroeconomic theory. They have developed a biomarker that detects all classes of anxiolytic drug doi: 10.1038/tp.2015.188 and is high in some people with anxiety disorders. They are using fMRI to determine its neural source; developing clinical tests based on it; and testing its links to the capacity of ketamine to treat “treatment-resistant” anxiety disorders doi: 10.1093/ijnp/pyy032.


McNaughton, N. and Gray, J.A. The Neuropsychology of Anxiety: an enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system. (3rd edition) Oxford University Press (2024) 680p [due 26 April 2024]

Gray, J.A. and McNaughton, N. The Neuropsychology of Anxiety: an enquiry into the functions of the septo-hippocampal system. (2nd edition) Oxford University Press (2000) 424p

e-book also available at:

With 10 electronic appendices originally published on the Oxford University Press website:

Appendix 12345678910 (PDFs)

McNaughton, N. Biology and Emotion. Cambridge University Press (1989) 228p.


Glue, P., Neehoff, S., Beaglehole, B., Shadli, S., McNaughton, N., & Hughes-Medlicott, N. J. (2024). Ketamine for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder: Double-blind active-controlled crossover study. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 38(2), 162-167. doi: 10.1177/02698811241227026

Malaei, F., McNaughton, N., Halberstadt, J., & Sole, G. (2023). The impact of body engagement on cognitive performance. Proceedings of the Psycolloquy Symposium. (pp. 31). Dunedin, New Zealand: Department of Psychology, University of Otago. Retrieved from

Mia, M., & McNaughton, N. (2023). Do hippocampus, insula and amygdala contribute to an anxiety syndrome biomarker? Proceedings of the Psycolloquy Symposium. (pp. 14). Dunedin, New Zealand: Department of Psychology, University of Otago. Retrieved from

Glue, P., & McNaughton, N. (2023). Why doesn't adjunctive ketamine enhance ECT's antidepressant efficacy in major depressive disorder: influence of ketamine dose. Psychiatry Research Case Reports. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1016/j.psycr.2023.100137

Fernández-Teruel, A., & McNaughton, N. (2023). Post-encounter freezing during approach-avoidance conflict: The role of the hippocampus. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1038/s41583-023-00703-y

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