Mind & Brain Lab
Department of Psychology, University of Ljubljana
The lab conducts research in a wide area of cognitive neuroscience with special attention paid to working memory, attention and other processes and abilities related to executive function and cognitive control.
The research questions addressed in the lab often relate to cognitive dysfunction as a consequence of brain injury, neurological and psychiatric disease, and involves work with various clinical groups. The reasons are twofold. First, exploring the properties of the dysfunctional cognitive system can inform us and allow us to test theories about the structure and processing of the healthy mind and brain. Second, detailed knowledge of the cognitive system in health and its changes in disease allow us to gain better understanding of the nature and mechanism underlying cognitive dysfunction, enabling us to develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic tools.
The third important aspect of the work in the lab relates to development of tools and procedures, and building core knowledge needed for research and professional work in area of cognitive neuroscience.
The ability to maintain information relevant for execution of ongoing activity forms one of the bases of the ability to design and execute goal directed behaviour, and with that represents an important area of research in cognitive neuroscience. A comprehensive understanding of working memory is only possible through relating multiple research methods and paradigms. Within the lab, there is a number of ongoing research projects with the common goal to combine behavioural, EEG and fMRI measurements and pharmacological challenge to gain detailed insight in the mechanisms of maintenance of information in working memory and its breakdown in diseases such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.
In 1935 John Ridley Stroop reported an interesting empirical finding: naming the colour of nonverbal stimuli (e.g.. XXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXX) required significantly less time than naming the colour of incongruent colour words (e.g.. BLUE, GREEN, RED). For its intriguing nature and robustness the results have sparked immense interest in the scientific community. The effect, appropriately named Stroop interference, became the subject of countless studies and the basis of the Stroop colour-word test, one of the most frequently used diagnostic and research instruments. Despite the impressive robustness of the core phenomenon, there are many factors related to the stimuli presentation and task design that significantly affect performance on the task. The work in the lab is aimed at exploring these factors with the goal of understanding the core underlying attentional processes and developing an enhanced standard version of the test.
Executive function forms the foundation of individual's ability for independent living and quality of life. Their key feature is enabling successful coping in complex, ill structured situations, an ability that is difficult to assess using abstract tests in well structured testing situations — a feature of many classic tests of executive function. In collaboration with Tammy Hershey's lab from Washington University in Saint Louis we are developing and testing a naturalistic test of executive function that allows assessment of individual's executive abilities in minimally structured task resembling an everyday challenge. The test has proved to be sensitive in detecting cognitive dysfunction in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, whereas results in patients with Parkinson disease have revealed close relationship with the quality of life assessment. The instrument is being further developed also in collaboration with University clinic in Leipzig, the key task being establishing of diagnostic norms.
Word represent one of most frequently used stimuli in research and diagnostic test within cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology. Often we are not aware of many significant differences between words that can affect speed and accuracy of observed responses. Unbalanced and unchecked, such differences can lead to artifactual differences between groups or conditions or can hide an actual effect of interest due to poor task design. It is therefore crucial to take into account the specific properties of words in the design of experiments and development of instruments. For these reasons we have set up a project aimed at assessing some of the core properties of slovene words, that should enable effective development of valid cognitive tests and tasks.
Despite much evidence to the contrary, an important part of economic theories is based on (often implicit) assumption of rational nature of human decision-making. To develop better predictions of economic decision-making and behaviour, the knowledge of its characteristics needs to be extended with understanding of the underlying cognitive mechanisms. Within the lab and in collaboration with outside researchers we are developing behavioural and neuroimaging studies that would help gain better insight into cognitive processes and their characteristics that shape individual's judgments and decisions.
Within the lab special attention is given to the development of advanced analytical methods that enable us to explore integrated brain function. Most efforts are focused on methods enabling the study of functional brain connectivity - the functional binding in the activity of brain regions - both during rest and while performing cognitive tasks. In the lab we are developing and testing novel approaches to the study of functional connectivity and employ them to address the questions about the mechanisms and properties of integrated brain function and dysfunction in health and disease. To support the research efforts we are also employing modern methods of classification and computational modelling.