scilogs NeuroCognition

NeuroCognition is now at

28. August 2012, 12:36

by Peter Zekert – The headline gives it away: NeuroCognition, the blog of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, has a new home. From now on, new posts will be found at

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Strange sounds: How the brain makes sense of degraded speech

27. June 2012, 17:27

By Julia Erb

Human beings have the capacity to understand speech under extremely adverse listening conditions―in a noisy pub, on the phone or even when living with hearing damage. The questions is: How does the brain manage to adapt to a degraded, acoustically messy speech signal within a short period of time? The Auditory Cognition Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig explored this question. (More)

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Announcing the 2012 Brain-Art Competition

16. May 2012, 18:18


To study the brain is to study a physical object — and with that comes the challenge of rendering our findings in a physical space. Alongside the developments in analytic methods, the elaboration of conceptual models, and the methodologies of data acquisition, how we visualize our findings about the brain is tantamount to how we understand it.

The Brain-Art Competition was launched in 2011 by the Neuro Bureau, with the support of the Child Mind Institute, as a way to offer a platform for the neuroimaging community to encourage novel developments in data presentation. It was our hope that the competition would further ideas and techniques for communicating scientific ideas and findings. The entries consisted of 55 submissions across four categories: abstract, connectome, humorous, and 3D rendering, and the winners in each category are listed here. (For a Scientific American blog describing several of the entries from the 2011 competition, click here.)

We once again have the opportunity to reach out for innovations in brain visualization with the launch of the 2012 Brain-Art Competition. Given the feedback we received on last year’s competition, we have chosen to substitute the “3D rendering” category with an “educational” category, whose aim is to encourage illustrations that communicate mechanisms, processes, and ideas that necessarily extend beyond a single brain image. In addition, we will be able to accommodate video-based submissions this year. Submissions are due on June 1st, and the winners will once again be announced at the conference of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping on June 11th.


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Stroke – warning signs, treatment and rehabilitation

10. May 2012, 12:21

Today is the German national day against stroke. A Stroke is caused by a disruption of the blood flow in the brain and can lead to serious impairments of movement, speech and other functions, or even to death.

How do factors like hypertension, obesity or smoking increase the risk? What symptoms signal the onset of a stroke? And what can be done to help rehabilitation? Arno Villringer, director of the Department of Neurology at the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences and coordinator of the german Competence Network Stroke, talks about these questions on Deutsche Welle TV.


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Is infants’ rationality overstated?

27. March 2012, 10:49

By Peter Zekert.

In a widely noticed study, developmental psychologists reported that 14-month-old infants imitate an unusual action if it was chosen deliberately by the person they observed, but not if it could be attributed to external constraints. This selective imitation was put forth as evidence for an early understanding of rational action and action goals. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig now present a much simpler explanation for the finding. A replication study revealed that the observed differences in imitation were likely caused by a distraction during the experiments. The study „Rethinking ‘Rational Imitation’ in 14-Month-Old Infants: A Perceptual Distraction Approach“ has been published at PLoS ONE.  (More)

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Chirps and Tweets: An Insight into Birdsongs

14. February 2012, 10:53

by Burak Yildiz, Research Group Modelling of dynamic perception and action.


Do you enjoy waking up on a Sunday morning with sunshine, blue sky, and joyful bird chirps on your window? Have you ever wondered how one of the most complex vocalizations in nature is produced by tiny little songbirds? Well... Researchers have tried to understand the fundamentals of song production, recognition and learning in birds for more than 50 years. Many believe that the answer will also give us hints about how humans learn, produce and also understand speech.

female zebra finch
Female zebra finch (photo: Stefan Leitner, MPI for Ornithology)

Songbirds, similar to humans, gain their vocal abilities early in life by listening to adults, memorizing, and practicing their songs [1]. In most species, usually the males sing and females listen. Female birds choose their mates by listening to the songs that carry information about the strength, learning capabilities and origins of the male. Similarly, male birds distinguish the songs of their neighbors from the songs of strangers to protect their territories [2]. But how do their brains do all this? (More)

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Riding the Brain Wave: From Hans Berger to Alvin Lucier and back

01. February 2012, 16:09

Can you hear your own brain? Of course, you cannot. I nevertheless find myself returning to this fascinating play of thought. We often talk of “brain waves”. This is most likely inspired by the old images of electroencephalographs (“EEG”) that recorded electrical voltage changes straight from a participant’s scalp and scribbled them onto meter-long papers. Here is a picture from Berger’s famous first publications in the late 1920s:

EEG recorded by Berger, source: Wikipedia 

This simple observation holds of course various truths about the brain. First, the brain looks messy when you try and plot its ”output” without further analysis or decomposition techniques at hand. Second, it does look like waves. There seem to be inherent waxing and waning, a rhythm, or as physicists (I am not one, in case you wondered) call it, “oscillations”.  (More)

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