27 October 2016

M&B 10th Anniversary Poster Presentations 2016

The Winners: Martin Maier, Friederike Irmen, Tally Miller

Dear members and friends of M&B,

The poster prize winners of the 10th Anniversary Poster Presentations 2016 for doctoral candidates are:

First prize:
Martin Maier (Doctoral Cohort 9, 2015)
(Supervisors: Rasha Abdel Rahman and Felix Blankenburg)

Second prize:
Friederike Irmen (Doctoral Cohort 9, 2015)
(Supervisors: Andrea Kühn and Hauke Heekeren)

Third prize:
Tally Miller (Doctoral Cohort 9, 2015)
(Supervisors: Friedemann Pulvermüller and Felix Blankenburg)

Congratulations to all winners, to their supervisors, collaborators, and mentors, and thanks to all doctoral candidates, master's students and our friends from UCL who presented their posters and/or contributed to this wonderful event by discussing and voting for posters. A special thanks goes to the 15 travel awardees of 2016. Photos will be posted on our Facebooks site.


Martin Maier
“Native language facilitates conscious visual perception”
(Martin Maier and Rasha Abdel Rahman)

The study of how language influences color perception has been one of the most striking examples of linguistic relativity. Language-specific color categories can influence basic perceptual processes such as visual discrimination. Yet, very little is known about the relationship between language and visual awareness: can language structures influence not only how, but also but if we perceive visual stimuli in the first place? Native-speakers of Greek, who place light and dark shades of blue into different verbal categories, detected more stimuli that contained this color contrast in an Attentional Blink paradigm. Crucially, this behavioral advantage was predicted by early electrophysiological brain activity starting around 100 ms after stimulus onset. Language-specific electrophysiological activity resurged in a later time window (220–300 ms) that proved critical for the transition of targets into visual awareness. This pattern was not observed in German controls, who do not distinguish verbally between the “Greek” blues. These results demonstrate that the categories of our native language are one of the forces that determine access of visual stimuli to awareness.

Friederike Irmen
“Subthalamic nucleus stimulation impairs emotional conflict monitoring in Parkinson’s Disease”
(Friederike Irmen, Julius Huebl, Henning Schroll, Christof Brücke, Gerd-Helge Schneider and Andrea Kühn)

The subthalamic nucleus (STN) occupies an important strategic position in the motor network, slowing down responses in situations with conflicting perceptual input. Recent evidence further suggests a role of the STN in emotion processing through its strong connections with emotion recognition structures. As deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the STN in patients with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) inhibits monitoring of perceptual and value-based conflict, STN DBS may also interfere with processing of emotional conflict. Specifically, STN DBS may modulate either the detection (conflict monitoring) or the control (conflict adaptation) of conflicting information.
To assess a possible interference of STN DBS in conflict monitoring and adaptation, we used an Emotional Stroop paradigm previously established by Etkin et al. (2006). Subjects had to categorize face stimuli according to their emotional expression (positive or negative) while ignoring emotionally congruent or incongruent superimposed word labels. Eleven PD patients ON and OFF STN DBS conducted the computerized task while taking their usual antiparkinsonian medication. Eleven age-matched healthy subjects participated as controls.
We found conflict-induced response slowing in healthy controls and PD patients OFF DBS, but not ON DBS suggesting, STN DBS to induce a decrease in emotional conflict detection irrespective of valence. OFF DBS, patients slowed down more for negative conflict stimuli and this emotional bias was regulated by STN DBS. Computational modelling of STN influence on conflict monitoring disclosed DBS to interfere via increased baseline activity. STN DBS did not alter the capacity to adapt cognitive control to conflict demands on a trial-by-trial basis.

Tally Miller
“Language facilitates tactile perception”

Linguistic relativity posits that language builds and shapes cognition and perception. Previous work suggested that speakers of languages that include specific verbal labels indexing perceptual features are more efficient in making the congruent perceptual discrimination. However, perceptual differences noted when testing people who speak different languages and who were raised in different cultural backgrounds can hardly be attributed uniquely to the structure of their first language. To adequately test whether perceptual discrimination is facilitated by the availability of concordant verbal distinctions, we trained subjects over the course of 1 week to discriminate fine-grained and minimally different vibro-tactile stimulus patterns. These patterns were either correlated with specific novel meaningless spoken pseudowords or they were paired randomly with such pseudowords. Before and after learning, subjects were tested on their ability to discriminate between vibro-tactile pattern pairs (without auditory stimuli accompaniment). Compared with their performance before training, subjects showed an improvement of pattern discrimination performance for patterns consistently paired with verbal labels, but not for patterns that were randomly paired with language stimuli (significant interaction prepost x consistency). These results demonstrate that consistent verbal labelling of a sensory difference facilitates the perceptual discrimination learning of that same difference. These results constitute strong experimental evidence for Whorfian top-down effects of language on somatosensory perceptual learning.