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Max-Planck-Institut für psychologische Forschung

The Max Planck Society is a non-profit research organization, which includes institutes devoted primarily to basic research in the areas of natural science and the humanities. In keeping with the general mission of the Society, the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research conducts basic research in the area of psychology with emphases on cognitive psychology and, to some extent, in developmental and pedagogical psychology as well as motivational psychology.

Cognition and Action (Prof. Dr. W. Prinz)

The program of this unit includes five large project areas which focus on different aspects of the connection between cognition, intention, and action:

The compatibility of perception and action. Projects in this area investigate privileged relationships between perception and action, e.g., in sensorimotor synchronization or in tasks with spatial stimulus-reaction compatibility.

The planning and control of action. Projects in this area investigate the interaction of perceptual, cognitive and motor processes with the translation of action plans and intentions into motor activity, e.g., in the selection and initiation of goal-oriented actions, eye-hand-coordination, or in the control and coordination of dual-tasks.

The acquisition of motor and cognitive skills. Projects in this area investigate medium and long-term practice-dependent changes in action control skills, as well as the dependence of these skills on environmental conditions, e.g., in sensorimotor adaption studies, in imitative learning or through the manipulation of action-oriented feedback.

Executive functions. Projects in this area investigate processes and functions underlying human goal-directed action, that is, processes controlling the preparation, planning, and coordination of actions and tasks, as well as the switching between tasks.

Perception and selection of structures and events. Projects investigate the processes of environmental stimuli selection and from environmental-oriented reactions as well as their connection and interplay, e.g., in visual attention or goal-oriented grasping.

Infant Cognition and Action (PD Dr. G.Aschersleben)

This group studies the development of the cognitive mechanisms of action control and of the self in the first 18 months of life. One basic idea is the assumption that goaldirected actions are controlled by the anticipation of their effects. When do infants recognize and learn the connection between self produced movements and their corresponding effects? When do they perceive the actions of other agents as goaldirected? To answer these questions, infants are observed in different experimental settings via video (applying the habitation paradigm and preferential looking method).

Cognitive Psychophysiology of Action (PD Dr. E. Wascher)

This junior research group investigates the interactions of differing spatial codes within a visuo-motor system. The research bases on the idea of contralaterality in the brain, i.e. increased activity in the EEG is observable contralaterally to the location of a spatial code. Differing scalp topographies indicate differing brain areas that process a number of spatial codes between perception and action. Using this method not only the temporal characteristics of spatial processing in the brain but also the interaction between discrete cortical areas can be observed. This way, the processing of visual information for manual responses as well as the influence of action upon perception will be investigated.

Cognitive Robotics (PD Dr. R. Möller)

The junior research group "Cognitive Robotics" focuses on behavior-based approaches to visual perception. A central idea is the learning and application of "forward models" which allow to predict how a sensory situation changes under self-generated actions. The group will investigate whether forward models are a useful concept to integrate perception and action, and to understand spatial cognition and the generation of goal-directed behavior. Research will be based on the "synthetic modeling" method: Models will be implemented on artificial agents (mobile robots and robot arms) and tested in the real world.

Sensorimotor Coordination (Dr. R. Laboissière)

The junior research group "Sensorimotor Coordination" investigates how the human central nervous system (CNS) can cope with the complexity of motor apparatus like the vocal tract and the hand/limb system. Apparently simple movements like pointing with a finger or uttering a syllable need the precise coordination of a high number of muscle commands. In order to understand how the CNS could infer this coordination from the interplay between sensory ansd motor signals, empirical studies and modelling approaches will be developed. The experiments will be based on the paradigm of movement perturbation, while the modelling efforts will focus on neurophysiological and biomechanical models of the motor periphery.

Further Research Projects (from former research unit "Behavioral and Cognitive Development"):

Covariant structure comparison models with latent variables for the analysis of categorical variable
Changes in the development of moral understanding
Development of achievement behavior and its emotions
Differential Behavioral Genetics (Twin-Research Project, GOLD)


Max-Planck-Institut für psychologische Forschung

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