Learning, attention, decision making
In a given moment the focus of our attention and the decisions we make are not only determined by the information currently available in the environment but depend to a great extent on former experiences we have encountered. Only when former experiences are incorporated into attentional and decision-making processes we can successfully control our actions and pursue long-term goals. On the other hand, experiences and learning processes can disrupt goal-directed action and contribute to the development and maintenance of dysfunctional behavior and psychiatric disorders.
Many psychiatric disorders have their roots, at least partly, in childhood and adolescence because of the high developmental dynamic and the high plasticity of the underlying neuronal structures in these early phases of development. To gain a better understanding of psychiatric disorders it is, therefore, important to identify the relevant psychological mechanisms and their neurocognitive basis during different developmental phases.
Until recently, psychological and neuroscientific research focused primarily on how current stimulus configurations influence the direction of attention and decision making. It is still not well understood how experiences and learning modulate attentional and decision-making processes, which neuronal systems mediate these modulations und how these different cognitive mechanisms interact to enable goal-directed behavior.
The goal of our research is to investigate the psychological and neurocognitive mechanisms of experience-dependent attention direction and decision making over the lifespan. In addition we study how these processes are changed in psychopathologies and might change as a result of psychotherapeutic interventions.
To address these research questions we use a multimodal approach and combine behavioral studies with neuroscientific methods such as functional and structural magnet resonance imaging.