Research topics  

10 - Affective neuroscience in psychiatry

PI: Professor Dr. med. Dr. phil. Henrik Walter

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In clinical psychiatry, all diagnoses crucially rest on subjectively experienced symptoms which appear to be directly accessible via introspection. In contrast, extrospective access to symptoms, e.g. via behavior, physiology or brain activity seems to be necessarily indirect. Moreover, empirically, correlations between subjective experience and e.g. brain activity usually are difficult to establish, weak and unreliable. This is a major challenge for psychiatric neuroscience in particular when studying affective phenomena where the ground truth seems to lie in introspection. This project aims to systematically explore conceptual, epistemic, empirical and ethical aspects of the supposed introspection-extrospection gap in an interdisciplinary approach. This shall be done by focusing on a concrete example of a specific affective phenomenon which (i) is highly relevant for mental disorders, (ii) on which a substantial body of empirical research exists and which (iii) can be investigated empirically also in the general population. A prime example would be anhedonia, i.e. the reduced ability to experience pleasure or a diminished interest in engaging in activities usually enjoyed.

An interdisciplinary approach to anhedonia will include for example:

(1) Conceptual analysis: Identify, analyze and clarify supposed unique aspects of introspection (e.g. directness, infallibility, lack of objectivity) in theories of anhedonia (e.g. liking, wanting, effort).

(2) Systematic review: Analyze and compare methods for introspection (e.g. questionnaires, online rating, ecological momentary assessment) and extrospection (e.g. behavior, brain measures, decision making parameters) in neurocognitive studies on anhedonia.

(3) Empirical study: Perform anhedonia study in extreme groups of the general population directly comparing introspective (questionnaires, online ratings, real world experience via smartphones) with extrospective measures (e.g. behavior, decision making parameters, brain activation).

(4) Theory building: Suggest consistent definitions, explore conceptual revisions, draw implications for theories of mental disorders (e.g. biopsychosocial theory, brain theory, network theory, enactivism) as well as for psychiatric practice.

Proposals may be submitted also for other affective phenomena relevant in psychiatry but must be structured in a comparable interdisciplinary approach and be feasible to be conducted in three years in a PhD setting.

Requirements for research topic 10

(1) Strong background in either cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, or experimental psychiatry with sufficient background knowledge in either philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, or philosophy of psychiatry (or vice versa).
(2) Willingness and aptitude for interdisciplinary interaction and collaboration,
(3) Willingness to fully participate in the research, education and training program of the RTG,
(4) Proficiency in English,
(5) Master's degree in a relevant field.

Applications for research topic 10

(1) A proposal for a doctoral project in research topic 10: "Affective neuroscience in psychiatry" (max. 5 pages in Arial 11, single spaced, plus max. 3 pages references),
(2) A meaningful letter of motivation (max 2 pages),
(3) Full academic CV,
(4) Copies/scans of Bachelor's and Master's certificates,
(5) Transcript of records for Master's degree.

Please send the above in one PDF file of no more than 7 MB.

Please name the file as follows: YourName_RTG_Topic10

Application address

mb-extrospection-please remove this


Two letters of reference should be sent directly to: Ms Annette Winkelmann, mb-extrospection-please remove this

Guidelines for referees for Topic 10 - please send them to your referees: download pdf


Application period 2018 and deadline

Deadline: Thursday 19 July 2018 11:59:59 a.m. CEST

This page last updated on: 13 July 2018