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How Flexible Are Human Beings?

A research project at the University of Regensburg explores the flexibility of human cognition

March 15, 2023

Adaptive control forms the basis for cognitive and behavioral flexibility. It describes the outstanding ability of humans to flexibly adapt thought and action to changing demands from the environment. At the same time, adaptive control is subject to aging processes and is impaired in numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders. But even healthy young adults can behave in surprisingly rigid and stubborn ways, such as continuing to use a strategy that was once successful but is no longer helpful in the current context.

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is now funding the joint project "Die (In-)Flexibilität von Kontrollanpassungen" of the Universities of Regensburg and Greifswald with a total of 439,000 euros over a period of three years. In this basic psychological research project, Prof. Dr. Gesine Dreisbach, Institute of Psychology at the University of Regensburg, and Prof. Dr. Rico Fischer, Institute of Psychology at the University of Greifswald, are studying two hitherto neglected phenomena that reveal a clear weakness in the much-praised flexibility of human cognition.

First is the paradox of asymmetric behavioral costs: people seem to find it harder to shift from a focused cognitive state to a relaxed cognitive state than vice versa.
Second is the observation that the ability to flexibly adapt oneself to contexts with different control requirements is limited by the volatility and frequency of this context change.

“The fundamental importance of adaptive control for cognitive and behavioral flexibility underscores the need for a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms, which can form the basis for further translational research", says Prof. Dr. Gesine Dreisbach while explaining the objective of the research project.


Prof. Dr. Gesine Dreisbach
Lehrstuhl für allgemeine und angewandte Psychologie
Universität Regensburg
Tel.: +49 (0)941 943-3816
E-Mail: gesine.dreisbach@psychologie.uni-regensburg.de

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