Labs and Research Topics
The department's research, in which students can take part in their practical study components, spans cutting edge topics such as multisensory integration, brain oscillations and behaviour, cortical plasticity, computational neuroscience, and pharmaco-neuroimaging among others. A variety of modern neuroscience tools and psychology labs are available to gain 'hands-on' experience in magnetic resonance imaging, magnetoencephalography, high-density electroencephalography, eye-tracking, transcranial magnetic and electric stimulation, and psychophysics. The Department of Psychology in Oldenburg is among the best-equipped in the country and characterised by its unique decision to dedicate its resources to this Master's course.
We investigate neural processes in the sensation-perception-action-cycle in an interdisciplinary team. Central to our research are cutting edge brain decoding methods which we use to learn from invasive and non-invasive neuroimaging methods in humans how the brain accomplishes everyday tasks. The aim of our research is twofold. On the one hand we are interested in basic research questions on how the brain constructs percepts from environmental sensory data, represents percepts, makes decisions, and controls muscles to interact with the environment. On the other hand we are interested to apply our research to construct brain- machine interfaces to supplement human cognition, communication, and motor function. Examples for our work on decoding of cognitive states and our brain controlled grasping project can be found on the lab-webpage.
Our research focuses on visuospatial and auditory attention, learning and plasticity, as well as the pharmacological modulation of such processes. The combination of pharmacological challenges with cognitive tasks in the context of functional neuroimaging (fMRI) studies is a powerful approach to directly assess pharmacological modulation of human brain activity. For example, we have performed several pharmacological fMRI studies showing a nicotinic modulation of visuospatial attention and shown that nicotine increases brain network efficiency. A long-term goal of such studies is to provide an experimental approach that has relevance to studying mechanisms of recovery and treatment effects in different patient populations.
The lab is headed by Christoph Herrmann and focuses on physiological correlates of cognitive functions such as attention, memory and perception. The methods that are used comprise electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial electric stimulation (TES), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), eye-tracking, neural network simulations, and psychophysics. The focus of the research lies in the analysis of oscillatory brain mechanisms. Oscillatory brain activity is considered to be one of the electrophysiological correlates of cognitive functions. We analyse these brain oscillations in healthy and pathological conditions, simulate them for a better understanding and try to modulate them.
By applying and advancing multivariate statistical and psychometric modeling techniques, our research aims at better understanding individual differences in general cognitive functioning and social cognition. We develop and evaluate computerized test batteries rooted in experimental psychology for measuring human abilities and combine psychometric, neurometric (EEG, (f)MRI), molecular-genetic and hormonal assessments to investigate within- and between-person variations in cognition, emotion and personality. A special focus of our research is the processing of invariant and variant facial information – a basic domain of social cognition. We ask how are abilities in the social domain special as compared with cognitive processing in general. To this aim we investigate typically functioning individuals across the life span, including old age and pathological conditions. Beyond these goals, we enjoy contemplating about conceptual issues in psychological measurement.
We use methods from experimental psychology and psychophysiology to study the relationship between the human brain and cognitive functions. One focus of our research is related to sensory deprivation and compensatory mechanisms. We study how hearing loss and deafness change the functional organization of the brain and what the consequences of these changes are for auditory rehabilitation. Related to this topic are studies investigating how information from different sensory modalities is combined to create a coherent percept of an object. Our key tool is high-density EEG, but we also use MEG, fMRI, and concurrent EEG-fMRI recordings. Because these tools provide us with complex, mixed signals that reflect different features of human brain function, we spend some time on the application and evaluation of signal un-mixing and signal integration procedures as well.
The research of the group is allocated at the intersection of neuropsychology and neurorehabilitation. In brief, we are interested in how the treatment of impairments resulting from central nervous disorders can benefit from neurocognitive approaches and theories. Our research currently focuses on using motor imagery, that is, the mental practice of movements, to support neurorehabilitation, for instance following stroke or in Parkinson’s disease. In close collaboration with the Neuropsychology lab we conduct studies in which we combine motor imagery training with lab-based or mobile neurofeedback setups. We run studies in healthy volunteers to learn more about the feasibility and the limitations of the neurofeedback applications. Just as important for the group is research aimed at learning more about motor imagery and motor cognition in the absence of neurofeedback. We strive to implement what we learn from these studies in our work with patients.
The second research focus of the group is the neurocognition of visual-temporal attention. Here we work mainly but not exclusively with RSVP paradigms such as the Attentional Blink. Among other things we compare brain activity (EEG, fMRI) in instances in which attention fails and in which it helps to successfully solve a task, or we study brain activity to better understand interindividual variations in task performance.
Unwanted sound, generally referred to as noise, is an environmental pollutant which may cause hearing loss. Additionally, noise also acts as an unspecific stressor with detrimental effects on biological and psychological processes: noise pollution has been associated with cardiovascular problems, sleep disturbance, and cognitive impairments. These harmful non-auditory effects of noise pollution typically only occur accumulated over time.
However, it is challenging to determine under which conditions environmental noise has adverse effects because whether a person perceives a sound as disturbing, annoying or stressful cannot be derived from the acoustic properties of the sound. Any particular sound, independent of its sound pressure level or other features, may be experienced as noise and, thus, can have negative consequences on well-being. Instead, how a sound is perceived depends on individual preferences, cognitive capacity, current occupation, and duration of exposure. Therefore, we need a perception based noise dosimetry that allows quantification of the perceived noise exposure for extended periods of time.
Recent developments in mobile electroencephalography (EEG) provide the possibility to study brain activity beyond the lab and thereby allow investigating how individuals perceive noise in everyday situations. Rather than monitoring the presence of noise, we can monitor the perceived noise exposure in the brain. In this research project, we want to use a combination of wireless EEG, concealed ear-centered electrode placement, and smartphone-based signal acquisition to study sound and noise perception in daily-life situations on an individual basis.
We will approach this topic in two parallel research lines. In the first research line, we will establish a relationship between EEG acquisition in the lab and in everyday situations. In the second research line, we will address individual noise perception and noise annoyance. On the one hand, we will work on overcoming the challenges involved in the acquisition and interpretation of EEG-signals that were acquired outside of the lab – this concerns signal artifacts and comparability to lab-based recordings. On the other hand, we will objectify the subjective noise disturbance in the lab and at the workplace. This takes place on three levels: subjective assessment, noise dosimetry and the recording of brain activity. Data obtained in the lab will be related to data obtained at the workplace. Our work will advance the field of mobile ear-centered EEG and will provide new insights on dealing with individual noise exposure.