We are psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists trying to understand how and why mechanisms of learning and brain plasticity change over the lifespan. Please browse this website for more information. If you are interested in our work, please send an email to the group leader (firstname.lastname@example.org).
11/2022: New publication in Current Biology:
Frank SM, Becker M, Qi A, Geiger P, Frank UI, Rosedahl LA, Malloni WM, Sasaki Y, Greenlee MW, Watanabe T (2022). Efficient learning in children with rapid GABA boosting during and after training. Current Biology, 32:5022-5030.e7.
It is often assumed that children learn more efficiently than adults, although the neuronal mechanisms responsible for such increased learning efficiency in children have remained unclear. In this study we examined visual learning in elementary school age children and adults using functional magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure inhibitory, GABAergic processing during and after visual learning in vivo. We found that visual learning triggered an increase of GABA only in children that persisted for several minutes after training ended. This novel finding predicted that training on new items rapidly increases the concentration of GABA in children and allows the learning to be rapidly stabilized. In subsequent behavioral experiments, we found that children indeed stabilized new learning much more rapidly than adults, which agrees with the common belief that children outperform adults in their learning abilities. Our results therefore point to GABA as a key player involved in efficient learning in children.
Several news outlets reported on this new research, including:
See https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0960982222016293 for the original article.
08/2022: New publication in Journal of Neuroscience:
Frank SM, Otto A, Volberg G, Tse PU, Watanabe T, Greenlee MW (2022). Transfer of tactile learning from trained to untrained body parts supported by cortical coactivation in primary somatosensory cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 42:6131-6144.
In this study we investigated neuronal mechanisms involved in skill learning. Skill learning (for example, learning to ride a bicycle) facilitates our interactions with the environment. However, it is effortful to acquire a new skill, begging the question whether the brain has evolved mechanisms to support such learning. Here, we used a combination of behavioral training and functional MRI to examine tactile skill learning with different body parts (hand and foot). We found that this learning was strongly supported by coactivation of cortical territory in somatosensory cortex representing untrained body parts. Our results indicate that cortical coactivation could not only serve as a neuronal support mechanism for skill learning with the trained body part, but could also lead to the acquisition of the new skill with the untrained but coactivated body part.
Our article was selected as a featured article by the editors of Journal of Neuroscience. See https://www.jneurosci.org/content/42/31/6131 for the original article.
06/2022: Official start of the Emmy Noether Group!