CCN Seminar series

Marike convenes the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience’s seminar series at Brunel University. Keep checking the blog for updates on talks, future and past.

List of speakers in 2016/2017



Professor Trevor Robbins (15/6/17; 3.30 pm): Compulsivity: Neural substrates and neuropsychiatric implications.

Host: Survjit Cheeta


Dr Kate Wilmut (3/10/16) : Navigating the environment in typical and atypical populations:  Can I walk through that gap?

During everyday life we walk around busy environments, negotiating stationary and moving obstacles. This is usually performed effortlessly but actually involves complex skills to visually monitor the environment and control body movements. One example of an obstacle is a gap or aperture such as that created by a doorway or parked cars. Here we must first make perceptual judgements about the absolute width of the aperture and our size in relation to it. Once a perceptual judgement regarding the size of an aperture has been made subsequent movements are adapted appropriately (e.g. turning the shoulders to pass through sideways). For individuals with coordination difficulties this presents a real challenge and can have a negative impact on safe participation at school or work and in everyday life. This talk will highlight recent findings from a population with a specific motor impairment, i.e. Developmental Coordination Disorder. More broadly my research focuses on how children and adults select movement patterns and then execute those movements.

Dr Stefan Vogt (14/12/16) :Cognitive control of imitation learning – evidence from neuroimaging

Imitation learning involves the acquisition of novel motor patterns based on action observation and motor execution. It is frequently used during skill acquisition in occupational, sports, musical, and rehabilitation settings. I will review a series of brain imaging studies on its neuro-cognitive mechanisms.

Our earlier studies have demonstrated that the human mirror neuron system is involved in the imitative and observational learning of configural hand actions (Buccino et al., 2004; Higuchi et al., 2012; Vogt et al., 2007). In addition to this core circuit, various lines of evidence indicate a crucial supervisory role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) for imitation learning.
Whilst we used the learning of guitar chords in these studies, our recent work on the imitation learning of finger sequences and rhythmical patterns indicates that the task networks (or ‘mirror mechanisms’), as well as the supervisory control structures vary substantially with the to-be-represented pattern. In particular, the posterior medial frontal cortex was highly active when learning novel sequences and rhythms, whilst the DLPFC was less strongly involved. These results confirm a two-level model of imitation learning, where both task networks and supervisory control mechanisms are highly task specific.
I will also touch upon two further lines of research, one contrasting the neural correlates of action observation and motor imagery, and the other on parallel neural representations during concurrent observation and imagery (‘AO+MI’, Vogt et al., 2013).

Dr Katja Kornysheva (22/1/17): Neural encoding of timing for skilled motor sequences

[abstract tbc]

Dr Sean Fallon (23/2/17): Clearing the mind of irrelevant information: Differential effects of reward, drugs and Parkinson’s disease.

Attentional and mnemonic limitations necessitate that irrelevant information is efficiently suppressed. In this talk I will discuss the diverse ways in which rewards, drugs and Parkinson’s disease affect the ability to control irrelevant information. An – often overlooked – prerequisite for this to occur is that there is a demarcation in the mind between relevant and irrelevant information, i.e., an attentional set. In the first part of my talk, I will highlight evidence to suggest that reward-related processing and dopamine are crucial for the establishment of attentional sets – and discuss how this process goes awry in Parkinson’s disease. In the second part of the talk, I will go on show that reward-related processing and catecholamines (dopamine and noradrenaline) affect the application of attentional sets to items within working memory. Principally, I will advance the view that reward-related processing and dopamine act as the referee in the contest between relevant and irrelevant information in working memory.

Dr Markus Hausmann (23/3/17): Why sex hormones matter for neuroscience – A short review on sex, sex hormones and functional brain asymmetry.

Biological sex and sex hormones are known to affect functional cerebral asymmetries (FCAs). Men are generally more lateralized than women. The effect size of this sex difference is small but robust. Some of the inconsistencies in the literature may be explained by sex-related hormonal differences. Most studies focusing on neuromodulatory properties of sex hormones on FCAs have investigated women during the menstrual cycle. Although contradictions exist, these studies have typically shown that levels of estradiol and/or progesterone correlate with the degree of FCAs, suggesting that sex differences in FCAs partially depend on hormonal state and day of testing. The results indicate that FCAs are not fixed but are hormone dependent, and as such they can dynamically change within relatively short periods throughout life. Many of these issues refer not only to FCAs but also to other aspects of functional brain organization, such as functional connectivity within and between the cerebral hemispheres. Our understanding of sex differences in brain and behavior as well as their clinical relevance will improve significantly if more studies routinely take sex and sex hormones into account.

Dr Simon Kelly (4/5/17 — 3pm): Value-biasing of sensorimotor decisions in the human brain

In challenging, dynamic environments, split-second sensorimotor decisions must be prioritized according to potential payoffs. An extensive literature has reported and modeled value-related biases in the timing and accuracy of choice behavior when subjects make deliberative perceptual judgments about weak stimuli. However, little is known about the mechanisms of adaptive value-biasing in situations where evidence is strong but the time to act is severely limited, such as in sports or when traveling in traffic. Moreover, no study has examined the neural processes involved in setting these biases in place in advance of the imperative sensory event. In my talk I will present the findings of two recent studies that address these questions using psychophysics, computational modeling and electrophysiology in humans performing a time-constrained, value-biased sensory discrimination task. In one study we identified a novel neural signature of preparatory value-based prioritization that scales with relative value and strongly predicts behavioral biases in the upcoming decision, and which bears interesting distinctions from hitherto known markers of attention, intention, salience, value or priority. In a second study, we examined mechanisms of value-based prioritization in the decision process itself. Behavioral model fits as well as neural motor preparation dynamics were consistent with value-biases being exerted at the sensory level, contrary to the vast majority of findings from paradigms emphasising perceptual uncertainty. The findings of these studies present a new model framework that furnishes concrete predictions for many other sensory stimuli and task scenarios, and provide a novel paradigm with considerable clinical potential, allowing principled assessment of how reward information is managed in the context of externally-instructed behaviors.

Professors Emily Cross & Richard Ramsey – 2pm – 26/5/17

Perceiving and Interacting with Social Agents: Insights from Brain and Behaviour

The ability to perceive and interact with others occurs in an effortless manner, but is underpinned by complex cognitive and neural processes. In these talks, we review recent evidence from behavioural and brain imaging studies that uncover deeper insight into social cognition and brain function. Using examples from action learning, imitation, person perception and theory of mind paradigms, we highlight the importance of considering distributed and connected brain circuits when aiming to understand how we perceive and interact with social agents.


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