left: structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) image of a stroke patient, middle:
functional MRI (fMRI) scanner, right: results from an fMRI study investigating motor imagery
For my research, I mainly employ fMRI (see middle picture above), which enables to visualize mental processes in the brain. The basic principle is that when neurons are active during a task, they consume oxygen and nutrients. To meet these demands, blood flow increases locally in the active area of the brain. This fresh blood has magnetic properties which differ from the old, low-oxygen, blood which is drained away. These differences in magnetic properties can be made visible by fMRI. MRI scanner are a save, risk-free, non-invasive tool for basic and applied research.
In the early years of fMRI many psychologists were sceptical about the usefulness of fMRI. However, nowadays we have left the stage of purley mapping functions to brain areas and are able to investigate fine-grained cognitive processes. By this, it is even possible to infer from brain imaging data to cognitive processes and, thus, help cognitive psychology in the refinement of cognitive theories. Thus, fMRI can be seen as being at the center of the area of neurocognitive psychology.
In addition I use behavioural methods such as measures of reaction time, error rate, and trajectories of joysticks.
Executive control and the prefrontal cortex
One line of research is focussed on how we cope with the situation to perform two tasks at the same time, so-called dual-task performance. Previous research has shown that people are not able to process two tasks fully in parallel. Instead, at least at one processing stage the tasks have to be processed serially, i.e. one after the other. We have shown that additional executive processes in the prefrontal cortex are required to manage this serial processing (e.g., the order in which the tasks are processed). Present research focusses on the exact nature of these executive processes, e.g. their role in preparation for dual-task performance. In this line of research, I employ fMRI as well as behavioural methods.
Human-computer-interaction (HCI): Delays in action performance
A second line of research is focussed on the effects of delays in action performance. In our everyday life, we frequently face the situation that we are briefly interrupted or delayed in an ongoing task. For instance, we might want to enter a shop and somebody steps in our way. Most people find such situations highly annoying.
In HCI this situation occurs if the computer briefly does not respond to user input, for instance because it is automatically saving the document, conducting a virus scan, or due to network delays. These so-called „system response times“ have been widely investigated in the 1970s and 1980s when system response times were in the order of 10 to 30 seconds. However, while research on this topic basically stopped in the mid-1990s, today’s computers still suffer from occasional delays, although they are typically shorter (but also more unpredictable). We have shown that even brief delays of ~1.5 sec duration during a simplified computer game result in emotional and performance costs. In detail, participants dislike the delays – no matter what we do (e.g. even when paying money for each delay). In addition, performance briefly decreases after a delay has occured, which makes this line of research highly relevant for occupations such as air traffic control personell. For this research, I mainly use behavioural measures (reaction times, error rates, joystick movements, questionnaires assessing emotional state) but I plan to use fMRI in the near future as well.
If you are interested in a research project, internship, Diploma-, Bachelor-, Masters-, or PhD-thesis, please feel free to contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org)