Prof. Dr. Jonas Rose, Neural Basis of Learning, Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience

Jonas Rose

Research Programme:

The fundamental aim of cognitive neuroscience is to understand how the brain generates cognitive, intelligent, behavior. Traditionally, this was achieved by studying humans and our close relatives. This approach goes back to a linear view of brain evolution which implies that an animal's intelligence is determined by its kinship to humans: no bird was supposed to be as intelligent as, for instance, our cousin the sheep.

Indeed, relative to the evolution of intelligence, the lines of birds and mammals separated very early. This, however, does not mean that birds are not intelligent. It rather means that we don't owe our intelligence to a common ancestor and that our neural machinery for cognition evolved independently. In fact, crows surpass most mammals such as sheep.

In my group we compare how avian and mammalian brains solve the same cognitive problems. Independent evolution of the same mechanism in both species implies a general neural principle. However, different neural solutions can challenge existing models. The absence of cortical organization in birds, for example, demonstrates that cortex is not the only structure that gives rise to intelligent behavior.

For this comparison we focus on working memory, the ability to hold information 'in mind' and to further process this information. We also study related cognitive processes, attention, sequential and episodic memory as well as categorization. We train crows on complex paradigms and record neural activity using state of the art high-channel count neurophysiological techniques. This allows us to record single cells and local field potentials from multiple brain structures simultaneously. In our work we can not only further our understanding of the avian brain but directly compare neural mechanisms between birds and mammals.