Keynote Speaker

Katharina von Kriegstein

Technische Universität Dresden

31.05.2024 11:00-12:00

Human auditory communication – from visual face areas to sensory thalamus

Understanding what is said and recognising the identity of the speaker are two important tasks that the human brain is faced with in auditory communication. For a long time, neuroscientific models of auditory communication have focused mostly on auditory language and voice-sensitive cerebral cortex regions to explain speech and voice identity recognition. However, we now know that the brain uses even more complex processing strategies for recognising auditory communication signals, such as the recruitment of dedicated visual face areas, as well as subcortical sensory thalamus structures. In the first part of my talk, I will present a short overview on our neuroscientific findings how visual face areas help processing auditory communication signals. I will also show studies that translate the neuroscience findings to computational models. In the second part, I will focus on the contribution of subcortical sensory thalamus structures to speech recognition. I will review 7-Tesla neuroimaging findings from typically developed participants as well as developmental dyslexics that suggest a major role of the sensory thalami in speech recognition.

Nils B. Kroemer

Universität Bonn and Universität Tübingen

01.06.2024 12:00-13:00

Body-brain interactions in the control of motivation

To ensure survival, optimal reward-seeking requires adaptation to internal and external states, and it is thought that our actions operate on a deeply engrained metabolic budget. Although goal-directed behavior has often been linked to prefrontal circuits, emerging evidence suggests a pivotal role of ascending signals from the body in tuning reward-related behavior according to bodily demands. In this talk, I will review the growing support for bodily signals as key modulators of instrumental behavior and the neural pathways subserving adaptation. First, I will summarize the motivational effects of interventions targeting ascending bodily signals, such as non-invasive transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS). Second, I will discuss the potential mechanistic role of bodily signals, such as gastric myoelectric frequency that regulates the speed of the digestive tract, in the control of motivation. Third, I will evaluate the implications of a focus on body-brain interactions for an improved understanding of the etiology and treatment of frequent mental disorders using major depressive disorder as an example. Fourth, I will highlight remaining challenges and open questions to unlock the potential of novel techniques to effectively modulate goal-directed behavior via the body. Taken together, conceptualizing bodily signals transmitted via vagal afferent as catalysts for goal-directed actions opens new avenues for theory-driven translational work that may help contextualize key motivational symptoms as a result of aberrant body-brain interactions.

Karin Roelofs

Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging and Radboud University Nijmegen

30.05.2024 09:15-10:15

Human defensive reactions and their role in approach-avoidance decision making

Behavioural scientists often assume that automatic defensive threat reactions, while essential in explaining animal behavior, only have limited value when it comes to understanding human behavior. There is, however, increasing evidence that defensive reactions, such as freezing, have an impact on subsequent approach-avoidance decisions under acute threat in humans. Understanding the mechanisms that drive such decisions is particularly relevant for patients with anxiety disorders, whose persistent avoidance is key to the maintenance of their anxiety. In recent years, computational psychiatry has made substantial progress formalizing the mechanisms through which we make (mal)adaptive decisions. However, most current models simply ignore the transient psychophysiological state of the decision maker. Here, I argue that the balance between para-sympathetic and sympathetic activity is instrumental in driving the psychophysiological state of freezing, and that it influences approach-avoidance decisions under acute threat in different ways. To illustrate, I first explore the effects of freezing on different kinds of human action decisions under threat. Next, I discuss recent translational (rodent-human) work that has helped to characterize the neural mechanisms implicated in animal and human defensive freezing. Finally, through two prospective longitudinal studies, I show that individual differences in susceptibility to freezing are predictive of the development of anxiety symptoms. Overall, this work suggests that defensive threat reactions and associated psychophysiological states not only affect acute decision making, but also predict long-term symptom development. As such, these factors have great importance for resilience research, and should constitute an integral part of any theory of human decision making.