Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Leipzig, Germany

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Leipzig, Germany

The Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain science is located Leipzig, Germany. The institute was founded in 2004 by a merger between the former Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Munich. It is one of 80 institutes in the Max Planck Society . Wikipedia.


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News Article | May 25, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

Reading is such a new ability in human evolutionary history that the existence of a 'reading area' could not be specified in our genes. A kind of recycling process has to take place in the brain while learning to read: Areas evolved for the recognition of complex objects, such as faces, become engaged in translating letters into language. Some regions of our visual system thereby turn into interfaces between the visual and language systems. "Until now it was assumed that these changes are limited to the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, which is known to adapt quickly to new challenges," says project leader Falk Huettig from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. The Max Planck researchers together with Indian scientists from the Centre of Bio-Medical Research (CBMR) Lucknow and the University of Hyderabad have now discovered what changes occur in the adult brain when completely illiterate people learn to read and write. In contrast to previous assumptions, the learning process leads to a reorganisation that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human writing therefore changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains. "We observed that the so-called colliculi superiores, a part of the brainstem, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex," says Michael Skeide, scientific researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and first author of the study, which has just been published in the magazine Science Advances. "These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it." Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. "We, therefore, believe that these brain systems increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading," the neuroscientist explains further. "This could explain why experienced readers navigate more efficiently through a text." The interdisciplinary research team obtained these findings in India, a country with an illiteracy rate of about 39 percent. Poverty still limits access to education in some parts of India especially for women. Therefore, in this study nearly all participants were women in their thirties. At the beginning of the training, the majority of them could not decipher a single written word of their mother tongue Hindi. Hindi, one of the official languages of India, is based on Devanagari, a scripture with complex characters describing whole syllables or words rather than single letters. Participants reached a level comparable to a first-grader after only six months of reading training. "This growth of knowledge is remarkable," says project leader Huettig. "While it is quite difficult for us to learn a new language, it appears to be much easier for us to learn to read. The adult brain proves to be astonishingly flexible." In principle, this study could also have taken place in Europe. Yet illiteracy is regarded as such a taboo in the West that it would have been immensely difficult to find volunteers to take part. Nevertheless, even in India where the ability to read and write is strongly connected to social class, the project was a tremendous challenge. The scientists recruited volunteers from the same social class in two villages in Northern India to make sure that social factors could not influence the findings. Brain scans were performed in the city of Lucknow, a three hours taxi ride away from participants' homes. The impressive learning achievements of the volunteers do not only provide hope for adult illiterates, they also shed new light on the possible cause of reading disorders such as dyslexia. One possible cause for the basic deficits observed in people with dyslexia has previously been attributed to dysfunctions of the thalamus. "Since we found out that only a few months of reading training can modify the thalamus fundamentally, we have to scrutinise this hypothesis," neuroscientist Skeide explains. It could also be that affected people show different brain activity in the thalamus just because their visual system is less well trained than that of experienced readers. This means that these abnormalities can only be considered an innate cause of dyslexia if they show up prior to schooling. "That's why only studies that assess children before they start to learn to read and follow them up for several years can bring clarity about the origins of reading disorders," Huettig adds.


News Article | May 24, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The brain did not evolve to read. It uses the neural muscle of pre-existing visual and language processing areas to enable us to take in works by Tolstoy and Tom Clancy. Reading, of course, begins in the first years of schooling, a time when these brain regions are still in development. What happens, though, when an adult starts learning after the age of 30? A study published May 24 in Science Advances turned up a few unexpected findings. In the report, a broad-ranging group of researchers—from universities in Germany, India and the Netherlands—taught reading to 21 women, all about 30 years of age from near the city of Lucknow in northern India, comparing them to a placebo group of nine women. The majority of those who learned to read could not recognize a word of Hindi at the beginning of the study. After six months, the group had reached a first-grade proficiency level. When the researchers conducted brain scans—using functional magnetic resonance imaging—they were startled. Areas deep below the wrinkled surface, the cortex, in the brains of the new learners had changed. Their results surprised them because most reading-related brain activity was thought to involve the cortex. The new research may overturn this presumption and may pertain pertain to child learners as well. After being filtered through the eyes, visual information may move first to evolutionarily ancient brain regions before being relayed to the visual and language areas of the cortex typically associated with reading. Scientific American interviewed Falk Huettig of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, the study’s senior author, to find out more. [An edited transcript follows.] What impelled you to take up the question of what are the changes in the brain of an illiterate adult who acquires some degree of literacy? The social implications of this kind of research are huge.  Hundreds of millions of adults are completely illiterate across the world. But also in Western countries such as the United States there are millions of functional illiterates, that is people who struggle to read even very simple sentences. We need to understand how flexible the brains of adults are for acquiring a hugely complex skill such as reading later in life to be able to put together literacy programs that have the best chance of succeeding to help these people. From a basic research point of view, working with illiterate people is also very rewarding. Writing is a very recent cultural invention if we look at the evolutionary history of our species. The first proper scripts were invented less than 6000 years ago. That means there is no reading area or reading network that could be specified in our genes. Looking at how cultural inventions change brain function and structures helps us to understand how the brain works on a fundamental level. How did you set about organizing the study? We needed to find adults who could not read at all to answer our research questions. We also wanted to use the latest technology to observe the changes in the brain. India was about the only place in the world where it was feasible to get this research done. India has made a lot of progress in increasing literacy levels but there are still large numbers of adults who cannot read even a single word today. At the same time modern MRI scanners are available at least in the big cities. Thus we got in touch with Indian colleagues to carry out the study. Was it difficult to put together-if so, can you be  specific? The logistic challenges were quite immense.  Although there are many illiterates in India they tend to live in the remote countryside far away from the big cities where the MRI scanners are. Even in India illiteracy is to some extent stigmatized and the ability to read and write is strongly connected to social class. We had to make sure that social factors could not influence the findings. We were grateful that a group of Dalit people, the most disadvantaged social group in India, were happy to take part. Brain scans were performed in the city of Lucknow, a three-hour taxi ride away from participants' homes. What did you find, what did you expect to find and what surprised you about your ultimate results? We expected to replicate previous findings that changes are limited to the outer layer of the brain, the cortex, which is known to adapt quickly to new challenges. We found the expected changes in the cortex but we also observed that the learning process leads to a reorganization that extends to deep brain structures in the thalamus and the brainstem. The relatively young phenomenon of human literacy therefore changes brain regions that are very old in evolutionary terms and already core parts of mice and other mammalian brains. More precisely, we found that a part of the brainstem known as the superior colliculus, and the pulvinar, located in the thalamus, adapt the timing of their activity patterns to those of the visual cortex. These deep structures in the thalamus and brainstem help our visual cortex to filter important information from the flood of visual input even before we consciously perceive it. Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities. It appears that these brain systems  increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading Do your results have any implications for disorders such as dyslexia? The findings do not only provide hope for adult illiterates, they also shed new light on the possible cause of reading disorders such as dyslexia. One possible cause for the basic deficits observed in people with dyslexia has previously been attributed to dysfunctions of the thalamus. Since we found out that only a few months of reading training can modify the thalamus fundamentally, we have to look more closely at this hypothesis. It could also be that affected people show different brain activity in the thalamus just because their visual system is less well trained than that of experienced readers. This means that these abnormalities can only be considered an innate cause of dyslexia if they show up prior to schooling. That's why only studies that assess children before they start to learn to read and follow them up for several years can bring clarity about the origins of reading disorders. Here is a full list of researchers: Michael A. Skeide, department of neuropsychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences;  Uttam Kumar, Centre of Biomedical Research, Uttar Pradesh, India; Ramesh K. Mishra, University of Hyderabad, India and Centre for Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India; Viveka N. Tripathi, Centre for Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, and department of psychology, University of Allahabad, Allahabad; Anupam Guleria, Centre of Biomedical Research, Uttar Pradesh, India; Jay P. Singh, Centre for Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad; Frank Eisner, Donders Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands and Falk Huettig, psychology of language department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands.


Grossmann T.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience | Year: 2013

One major function of our brain is to enable us to behave with respect to socially relevant information. Much research on how the adult human brain processes the social world has shown that there is a network of specific brain areas, also called the social brain, preferentially involved during social cognition. Among the specific brain areas involved in the adult social brain, functional activity in prefrontal cortex (PFC), particularly the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), is of special importance for human social cognition and behavior. However, from a developmental perspective, it has long been thought that PFC is functionally silent during infancy (first year of life), and until recently, little was known about the role of PFC in the early development of social cognition. I shall present an emerging body of recent neuroimaging studies with infants that provide evidence that mPFC exhibits functional activation much earlier than previously thought, suggesting that the mPFC is involved in social information processing from early in life. This review will highlight work examining infant mPFC function across a range of social contexts. The reviewed findings will illustrate that the human brain is fundamentally adapted to develop within a social context. © 2013 Grossmann.


Grossmann T.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Infancy | Year: 2013

It has long been thought that the prefrontal cortex, as the seat of most higher brain functions, is functionally silent during most of infancy. This review highlights recent work concerned with the precise mapping (localization) of brain activation in human infants, providing evidence that prefrontal cortex exhibits functional activation much earlier than previously thought. A systematic evaluation of the activation patterns in these neuroimaging studies mainly based on functional near-infrared spectroscopy reveals that prefrontal cortex function can be broadly divided into two distinct anatomical clusters with different functional properties. One cluster of activations falls within the region of the medial prefrontal cortex and is mainly involved in affective processes; another cluster is located in lateral aspects of the prefrontal cortex and shows sensitivity to cognitive processes such as memory and attention. This distinction is in line with adult data and evolutionary models and may represent a developmentally continuous organization principle of prefrontal cortex function. All in all, this review is aimed at providing a synthesis of new findings that are emerging from the use of neuroimaging techniques with infants as well as at encouraging further theory-driven research to understand the developmental origins of prefrontal cortex function. Copyright © 2013 The International Society on Infant Studies183 May/June 2013 10.1111/infa.12016 International Society on Infant Studies Early Career Award, 2012 INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY ON INFANT STUDIES EARLY CAREER AWARD, 2012 Copyright © International Society on Infant Studies (ISIS).


Turner R.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2016

When blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrast functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was discovered in the early 1990s, it provoked an explosion of interest in exploring human cognition, using brain mapping techniques based on MRI.Standards for data acquisition and analysis were rapidly put in place, in order to assist comparison of results across laboratories.Recently, MRI data acquisition capabilities have improved dramatically, inviting a rethink of strategies for relating functional brain activity at the systems level with its neuronal substrates and functional connections.This paper reviews the established capabilities of BOLD contrast fMRI, the perceived weaknesses of major methods of analysis, and current results that may provide insights into improved brain modelling.These results have inspired the use of in vivo myeloarchitecture for localizing brain activity, individual subject analysis without spatial smoothing and mapping of changes in cerebral blood volume instead of BOLD activation changes.The apparent fundamental limitations of all methods based on nuclear magnetic resonance are also discussed. © 2016 The Author(s).


Makuuchi M.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences | Friederici A.D.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Cortex | Year: 2013

Language processing inevitably involves working memory (WM) operations, especially for sentences with complex syntactic structures. Evidence has been provided for a neuroanatomical segregation between core syntactic processes and WM, but the dynamic relation between these systems still has to be explored. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we investigated the network dynamics of regions involved in WM operations which support sentence processing during reading, comparing a set of dynamic causal models (DCM) with different assumptions about the underlying connectional architecture. The DCMs incorporated the core language processing regions (pars opercularis and middle temporal gyrus), WM related regions (inferior frontal sulcus and intraparietal sulcus), and visual word form area (fusiform gyrus). The results indicate a processing hierarchy from the visual to WM to core language systems, and moreover, a clear increase of connectivity between WM regions and language regions as the processing load increases for syntactically complex sentences. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Friederici A.D.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience | Year: 2012

In the absence of clear phylogenetic data on the neurobiological basis of the evolution of language, comparative studies across species and across ontogenetic stages within humans may inform us about the possible neural prerequisites of language. In the adult human brain, language-relevant regions located in the frontal and temporal cortex are con- nected via different fiber tracts: ventral and dorsal pathways. Ontogenetically, it has been shown that newborns display an adult-like ventral pathway at birth. The dorsal pathway, however, seems to display two subparts which mature at different rates: one part, con- necting the temporal cortex to the premotor cortex, is present at birth, whereas the other part, connecting the temporal cortex to Brocaàs area, develops much later and is still not fully matured at the age of seven. At this age, typically developing children still have problems in processing syntactically complex sentences. We therefore suggest that the mastery of complex syntax, which is at the core of human language, crucially depends on the full maturation of the fiber connection between the temporal cortex and Brocaàs area, © 2012 Friederici.


Poldrack R.A.,Stanford University | Gorgolewski K.J.,Stanford University | Gorgolewski K.J.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Nature Neuroscience | Year: 2014

In the last decade, major advances have been made in the availability of shared neuroimaging data, such that there are more than 8,000 shared MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data sets available online. Here we outline the state of data sharing for task-based functional MRI (fMRI) data, with a focus on various forms of data and their relative utility for subsequent analyses. We also discuss challenges to the future success of data sharing and highlight the ethical argument that data sharing may be necessary to maximize the contribution of human subjects. © 2014 Nature America, Inc.


Jeon H.A.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Nature communications | Year: 2013

The lateral prefrontal cortex is known to be organized by cognitive hierarchies following a posterior-to-anterior gradient. Here we test whether this model applies across different cognitive domains by varying levels of cognitive hierarchy in first language, second language and non-language domains. These domains vary in their degree of automaticity with first language being the most automatic. For second language/non-language a clear gradient pattern of activation depending on the level of hierarchy is observed in the prefrontal cortex with the highest level of hierarchy recruiting its most anterior region, whereas for first language the highest level of hierarchy recruits its most posterior region. Moreover, second language/non-language and first language differ in the structural connectivity of their underlying networks. The current data strongly suggest that functional segregation of the prefrontal cortex is determined by cognitive hierarchy and the degree of automaticity.


Grant J.A.,Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences | Year: 2014

Since the first demonstrations that mindfulness-based therapies could have a positive influence on chronic pain patients, numerous studies have been conducted with healthy individuals in an attempt to understand meditative analgesia. This review focuses explicitly on experimental pain studies of meditation and attempts to draw preliminary conclusions based on the work completed in this new field over the past 6 years. Dividing meditative practices into the broad categories of focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) techniques allowed several patterns to emerge. The majority of evidence for FA practices suggests they are not particularly effective in reducing pain. OM, on the other hand, seems to influence both sensory and affective pain ratings depending on the tradition or on whether the practitioners were meditating. The neural pattern underlying pain modulation during OM suggests meditators actively focus on the noxious stimulation while inhibiting other mental processes, consistent with descriptions of mindfulness. A preliminary model is presented for explaining the influence of mindfulness practice on pain. Finally, the potential analgesic effect of the currently unexplored technique of compassion meditation is discussed. © 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.

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