Fakultät für Psychologie
Emmy Noether Research Group "Neuronal Mechanisms of Action Control"
Phone: +49 234 32 24630
Fax: +49 234 321 4377
The selection of actions and appropriate responses is a fundamental problem every organism is faced with. Even though there are hundreds of response alternatives that are accessible to us every moment, we are almost effortlessly able to choose between different alternatives in order to organize our behavior. We are faced with this problem in many areas of daily life. Children, for example, who are beginning to learn to drive a bicycle are almost unable to eat ice cream at the same time. Similarly, when learning to drive a car it is challenging to coordinate steering, braking, switching gears and tuning the radio at almost the same time.
Despite we are faced with such "multi-tasking" problems in many situations, the question how we choose between different response alternatives is not satisfactorily answered. Moreover, the question how we are able to perform "multi-tasking" in some situations, but not in others is also not answered. How are we able to flexibly control different actions, either serial, or parallel?
From a neuroscientific point of view, research in this area is dominated by a "cortico-centric bias" (Parvizi, 2009, TICS). This means that almost only functions of the cortex are discussed to be important for "multi-tasking". Among the shades of this perspective other models suggest that the basal ganglia play an important role and may vastly determine the efficiency with which we control our actions. The basal ganglia are an ancient brain structure that is severly affected in neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson's or Huntington's disease.
Goal of this Emmy-Noether Research Group is to unreveal the basal ganglia's mechanisms and interactions with other brain structures underlying "multi-tasking". The research concept integrates different, yet interlinked approaches.
Using molecular genetic techniques we examine neurobiological factors that determine interindividual differences in multi-tasking abilities. Doing so we do not only analyze the behavioral level, but also investigate neurophysiological mechanisms using electroencephalographic (EEG), functional imaging (fMRI) and structural imaging data (MRI). Broadening these approaches we also investigate how behavioural control can be modulated by exposure-based learning mechanisms.
In addition to these basic science research streams, other branches of research focus on neurodegenerative basal ganglia diseases, i.e. Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. With respect to these diseases we are interested in how multi-tasking and action selection processes are changed as disease progresses. As a part of these disease-related approaches we also investigate the effectiveness of treatments. Besides effects of 'classical' drug-based interventions we investigate the effects of 'deep brain stimulation (DBS)' in Parkinson's disease. Results of these approaches will provide insights that are of relevance from an applied neuropsychological perspective, since these studies contribute to knowledge necessary to optimize treatments for these patient groups. At the same time, these approaches provide deep insights into the mechanisms of multi-tasking. In order to understand the neuronal mechanism at the deepest possible level, results from the above mentioned studies in healthy and diseased people are simulated in neural networks using "computational neuroscience" techniques. These simulations are performed as part of national and international collaborations.
- Beste, C., Wascher E., Güntürkün, O., Dinse, H.R. (2011). Improvement and impairment of visually guided behavior through LTP- and LTD-like exposure-based visual learning. Curr Biol, 21, 867-882.
- Willemssen, R., Schwarz, M., Müller, T., Falkenstein, M., Beste, C. (2011). Effects of aging, Parkinson’s Disease and medication on conflict processing functions. Neurobiol Aging, 32, 327-335.
- Beste, C., Kolev, V., Yordanova, J., Domschke, K., Falkenstein, M., Baune, B.T., Konrad, C. (2010). The role of the BDNF val66met polymorphism for the synchronization of error-specific neural networks. J Neurosci, 30, 10727-10733.
- Beste, C., Saft, C., Güntürkün, O., Falkenstein, M (2008). Increased cognitive functioning in symptomatic Huntington’s disease as revealed by behavioral and event-related potential indices of auditory sensory memory and attention. J Neurosci, 28, 45, 11695-11702.