Application  

DAAD Topics for Deadline 9 December 2020


(1) Supervisor: Professor Felix BERMPOHL

Description of research area for doctoral project

Within our research project we aim to identify neurofunctional mechanisms underlying physical activity training for smoking cessation in tobacco use disorder. Therefore we randomize subjects to physical activity training and offer cognitive behavioral therapy for quitting motivated smokers. Using functional neuroimaging, we are interested in altered reward processing and cognitive control strategies as mechanisms of action targeted by our intervention. Furthermore, we aim to predict smoking cessation success by using neurofunctional, neurostructural, behavioral and genetic measurements and methodological techniques like machine learning. We define our research area in the field of translational psychiatry.

Research questions

  • What are the effects of physical exercise training?
  • What are moderators and mediators of the effect of physical exercise training on abstinence?
  • What are neural predictors for successful physical exercise training?

Special requirements: German

Ability to interview and test patients in German

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: felix.bermpohl@charite.de
 

(2) Supervisor: Professor Marcel BRASS

Description of research area for doctoral project

Investigating free will beliefs in virtual reality

Experimental philosophy has come up with text-based scenarios to investigate how people behave in hypothetical situations and alternative worlds. However, such text-based scenarios are not very immersive and stay on an abstract level. Therefore, it is questionable whether they can provide a realistic assessment of people’s behavior.
Virtual reality provides an effective tool to create such hypothetical scenarios with a much higher degree of immersion. Furthermore, VR allows to investigate how people actually behave in such hypothetical situations. The goal of the present project is to use VR to empirically investigate philosophy-based scenarios and thought experiments related to free will.

Potential research questions

1.    How do people behave when they interact with avatars that do not have free will because they are externally controlled?
2.    How does experiencing a lack of control in a virtual environment influences peoples’ belief in free will?
3.    How do people respond emotionally to an avatar being punished for an offence depending on whether they belief he/she has free will or not?
4.    How can one use EEG to investigate free-will related scenarios in VR?

Requirements

(1) a background in experimental psychology or cognitive neuroscience
(2) prior experience with the analysis of complex data
(3) a strong interest in the interdisciplinary collaboration with philosophers
(4) good programming skills or the willingness to heavily invest in programming
(5) proficiency in English,
(6) Master's degree in a relevant field.

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: marcel.brass@hu-berlin.de
 

(3) Supervisor: Professor Carsten FINKE

Research topic for doctoral project

Our research focuses on cognitive deficits in neurological disorders: We aim to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cognitive deficits and we study patients with focal lesions or distinct network changes to learn about the principal organization and function of the healthy human brain. We have a specific interest in neuroimmunological disorders, such as autoimmune encephalitis, multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, but we also study patients with developmental, vascular and neurodegenerative disorders. We use a broad range of research methods, including structural and functional MRI, comprehensive neuropsychological assessments and immersive virtual reality setups.

Open questions to be answered

  • Investigation of the association between brain structural damage and cognitive deficits in patients with autoimmune encephalitis in a large Germany-wide registry study
  • Dynamic functional connectivity analyses in patients with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica and autoimmune encephalitis
  • COVID19-associated long-term effects on cognition, fatigue and quality of life (“long Covid”) studied within the German national pandemic cohort network NAPKON (Nationales Pandemie Kohorten Netz)
  • Assessment of spatial navigation deficits and potential compensatory strategies in patients with hippocampal damage using virtual reality navigation setups
  • Translational neuroimaging projects in humans with autoimmune encephalitis and mouse models of autoimmune encephalitis, including study of structural and functional connectivity and comparison with histopathological changes

Requirements

  • Master’s Degree in Psychology, Neuroscience, Biology, Computer Science or related disciplines with excellent results
  • Fluency in English

Desirable

  • Programming skills (Python, Matlab, R)
  • Experience with acquisition and analysis of MRI data
  • Experience with standard tools for analysis of neuroimaging data (e.g. FSL, SPM, FreeSurfer)

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: carsten.finke@charite.de
 

(4) Supervisor: Professor Christine HEIM

Research topic for doctoral project

The developing brain is especially sensitive to the organizing effects of experiences in childhood (refs 1-3). Based on the cortical competition hypothesis (ref 1), it can be argued that neuroplastic reorganization might depend on the nature and timing of an experience (ref 4): If an experience is highly aversive and developmentally inappropriate (instead of enriching) the brain might narrow its cortical representation to limit detrimental effects4. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based cortical thickness analyses, we previously demonstrated that exposure to CSA was specifically associated with pronounced cortical thinning in the genital representation field of the primary somatosensory cortex. We propose (ref 4) that such plastic reorganization may be protective for the child living under abusive conditions, but may represent a direct neural substrate for behavioral disorders, such as sexual dysfunction, later in life, when the behavior would be expected. Hence, cortical thinning in specific regions may reflect an adaptive response and protective mechanism of the developing brain, potentially serving to shield the child from highly adverse environmental conditions, similar to “sensory gating” of CSA experiences.

Open questions to be answered

  • We do not know how childhood sexual abuse impacts on the structure of the individually mapped genital field in adult women.
  • It is unknown whether cortical thinning of the genital field in adults with CSA reflects an early, protective neurobiological mechanism of avoiding adverse sensory experiences, according to the concept of “developmental programming” (ref 5) or whether cortical thinning occurs as a consequence of decreased sexual behavior frequency in adulthood (“use it or lose it”) (ref 1).

To that end, I would be happy to mentor a doctoral student who would participate in studies aimed at answering these questions (the study is funded by Research Cluster Neurocure).

Qualifications

  • Completed Bachelor or Master of Science Degree in Psychology or Biology/Neuroscience.
  • Knowledge in the application of neuroimaging techniques (MRI, fMRI) and analyses of neuroimaging data.
  • Experience in conducting clinical/psychiatric interviews.
  • Experience in data analyses.
  • Proficiency of German and English in speaking and writing.

References

1. Elbert T, Rockstroh B. Reorganization of human cerebral cortex: the range of changes following use and injury. Neuroscientist 2004;10:129-141.

2. Hubel DH, Wiesel TN. Receptive fields in cells in striate cortex of very young, visually inexperienced kittens. J Neurophysiol 1963;26:6: 994-1002.

3. Teicher MH, Samson JA, Anderson CM, Ohashi K. The effects of childhood maltreatment on brain structure, function and connectivity. Nat Rev Neurosci 2016;17:652-66.

4. Heim C, Mayberg HS, Mletzko T, Nemeroff CB, Pruessner JC. Decreased cortical representation of genital somatosensory field after childhood sexual abuse. Am J Psychiatry 2103;170:616-623.

5. Lupien SJ, McEwen BS, Gunar M, Heim C. Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci 2009;10:434-445.

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: christine.heim@charite.de
 

(5) Supervisor: Professor Pia KNOEFERLE

Research topic for doctoral project

Language processing research has examined biases in comprehension (e.g., subject-first preference, template-like processing strategies) and their (in)variability. In relating a current utterance (its verb) to a prior event context, comprehenders also seem to display a preference (looking at the target of a completed event upon hearing the verb over anticipating what comes next). The functional significance of this behavioral “recent-event” preference is unclear. Moreover, the preference seems to go against the prediction of frequency-based accounts of processing: It is relatively robust even when most sentences are about future instead of completed actions.

Open questions to be answered

What is the functional contribution of the recent-event preference to comprehension and language learning? Does it improve integration of current language with prior context, or is it a strategy that subserves language learning, or both of these? Or is the recent-event preference something like a first-mention or recency preference? COVID-19 permitting, it would be interesting to look at the (hitherto unknown) ERP correlates of this preference and compare them to ERP correlates for other processing biases.

Requirements

  • Degree in psycholinguistics, cognitive science, psychology
  • Excellent experience in experimental research including lab rotation experience; additional experience in eye-tracking / ERPs would be beneficial;
  • Excellent experience in data analysis (e.g., lmer, ANOVA); specific experience in the analysis of eye-tracking and / or EEG data would be an asset;
  • Very good writing and communication skills in English; good knowledge of German would be an advantage
  • Highly motivated

Please note: I had originally sketched the topic with more of a neuroscience / ERP focus. Our EEG lab is back open, but given the current pandemic situation I think it’s best to outline a project that is less dependent on close-range experimentation. If possible though, ERP evidence on the preference would be a goal of the project.

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: pia.knoeferle@hu-berlin.de
 

(6) Supervisor: Professor Klaus OBERMAYER

Description of research area for doctoral project

The consolidation of hippocampus-dependent memory benefits from slow-wave sleep. A dialog was proposed for this consolidation process, where the ‘up’ phase of cortical slow-oscillations drives the replay of newly encoded memories in hippocampus (accompanied by sharp-wave ripples & thalamocortical spindles) mediating their long-term storage in neocortex. Probing the underlying mechanisms in humans to understand causal relationships and to ultimately restore normal function in patients requires manipulations of the consolidation process. These manipulations can be performed by non-invasive perturbation experiments.
Here we develop a theoretical approach which mechanistically describes the interaction between transcranial electrical stimulation and the global brain dynamics. Using a whole-brain model of slow-oscillation activity, we will integrate thalamocortical loops to generate sleep spindles and then study the spatiotemporal oscillation patterns. In collaboration with clinical scientists we will search for features which are predictive for improved memory consolidation, optimize stimulation protocols, and validate model predictions against human sleep-EEG recordings.

Some research questions

Q1: How do properties of the brain’s connectome - in addition to the physiological parameters of the local circuits - influence the spatiotemporal pattern of sleep rhythms?

Q2: What is the impact of stimulation parameters on slow-oscillations, δ-waves, spindle, and ripple activity, and how do these changes correlate with memory consolidation?

Q3: How well can the observed changes in the interactions between sleep rhythms be predicted using the in-silico approach?

Q4: What are the neural underpinnings of the stimulation-induced changes to the interplay of sleep-related rhythms on a network level? (plasticity vs. entrainment)

Requirements

  • Successfully completed university degree in a quantitative discipline (e.g. computational neuroscience, computer science, mathematics, physics)
  • Solid mathematical background (e.g. dynamical systems)
  • Very good programming skills

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: klaus.obermayer@tu-berlin.de
 

(7) Supervisor: Professor Arno VILLRINGER

Research area for doctoral project

Heart-brain interaction in cognition and emotion

Several recent studies have demonstrated that heart-brain interactions can shape perception, cognition, and emotions. However, the fundamental mechanisms regarding e.g., the involved neural pathways, brain areas, and brain rhythms as well as the role of different aspects of cardiac function are poorly understood. We are addressing these open questions by combining cutting edge behavioral methods including assessments in virtual reality, mobile (EEG, fNIRS) and non-mobile (fMRI) neuroimaging methods with cardiological monitoring in healthy human subjects. Beyond clarifying fundamental aspects of human cognition, our studies will have important clinical implications in diagnostics and treatment of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.

Potential topics

  • Computational modeling of heart-brain interaction
  • Heart-brain interaction during cognitive tasks
  • Impact of heart disease on cognition

Requirements

  • Outstanding achievements in Bachelor or Master studies in areas such as cognitive (neuro-)science, psychology, medicine, computer science
  • Programming skills are very useful

Application

Apply by 9 December as described under DAAD Scholarship Deadline 9 Dec 2020

Please find information on supervisors here: Faculty (internal website)

Contact Supervisor: villringer@cbs.mpg.de
or: ulrike.lachmann@charite.de

 

 
This page last updated on: 10 November 2020
 

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