Research Topics and Projects: Overview
In our lab we study functional principles and underlying neural mechanisms and plasticity of the human neuro-cognitive system. More precisely, multisensory functions and age-dependent plasticity of the brain constitute the focus of our research. We are currently addressing these phenomena in our lab with different strategies:
(1) Functional principles and underlying neural mechanisms of sensory and cognitive functions are studied in a healthy adult population. This basic scientific approach focuses on multisensory processes, senory-motor functions, and modality specific as well as modality independent aspects of speech.
(2) Further, using a retrospective and developmental approach, the impact of alterations of the typical developmental trajectory are studied. This approach focuses on behavioral and neural plasticity as a consequence of sensory deprivation, e.g. in blind and deaf individuals, and as a consequence of reafferentation of the affected modality later in life, e.g. after cataract surgery or cochlea implantation. Examples of research questions on this topic are: compensatory plasticity of cognitive and sensory functions (e.g. Do intact sensory systems increase their capacities in the absence of another sensory system?); first and second language acquisition of spoken and sign language, e.g. for deaf individuals; functional restitution of multisensory functions after a transient phase of sensory deprivation.
(3) In a prospective developmental approach, behavioral changes are compared to structural and functional changes of the brain. In this research area, neural development of language and multisensory functions are the center of attention.
(4) Constrains of behavioral and neural plasticity, meaning the brain's flexibility to show structural and functional changes, are the focus of training studies (approach of behavior dependent plasticity). The brain's capacity to adapt to new (environmental) demands changes during the lifespan. Training studies including different age groups have to be conducted. Such trainings can be short (e.g. perception or cognitive trainings for some hours or days) or ongoing (e.g. physical activity for month or years).
Neuro-cognitive functions will be measured with a combination of behavioral and electrophysiological measures (event-related potentials, EEG), imaging techniques (functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI) and gaze direction measures. Results of the developmental cognitive neuroscience - when and how do and can humans learn - are relevant in various contexts. They give insights into critical and limiting factors in childhood, possibly leading to an improvement of the learning environment for all age groups; they can help to build effective (neuo-) rehabilitation programs for people with developmental disorders, sensory deprivation or brain injury.
On the following pages you can find a more detailed description of current research programs, the ideas, methods and possible contributions to answering our research questions!