Neuroimaging and Interindividual Differences


Dr. Erhan Genç

The MRI unit and junior research group „Neuroimaging and Interindividual Differences“ is concerned with interindividual differences in psychological factors relevant to the work environment (e.g. cognitive performance, personality traits, learning ability) and aims to identify neurogenetic properties underpinning these differences. To this end, the research group employs genetic analyses, state-of-the-art imaging and brain stimulation techniques, as well as methods from the field of deep learning. In addition to cross-sectional study designs, the research group also conducts longitudinal studies to gain a deeper understanding of dynamic changes in relevant work-related psychological factors across the whole lifespan.

Understanding and modulating cognitive performance

With every day we are faced with cognitive challenges inside and outside of our work environment. In order to master these challenges, we oftentimes have to structure vast amounts of information and apply them to the solution of novel problems. This is what we consider intelligence. During past decades, intelligence research has been enriched by implementation of neuroscientific methods. Despite these increasing efforts to unravel the biology of intelligence, we are still far from a true mechanistic understanding of this vital human work-related feature. The projects carried out by the junior research group aim to close this gap of knowledge by means of a two-step approach.

First, a combination of various neuroscientific methods is used to assess the structural and functional brain properties underpinning intelligence with utmost precision. Second, the information obtained in this process informs the development of highly individualized brain stimulation protocols, which can be used to modulate cognitive abilities and gain a deeper understanding of the causal relationships at the core of intelligent thinking.

Understanding neurogenetic factors influencing cognitive performance and personality

Interindividual differences in psychological factors relevant to the work environment, such as intelligence or certain personality traits, are not only associated with variation in the brain’s structure and function but can also be traced back to genetic factors, which can be quantified by means of polygenic scores (PGS).

However, the exact pathway from genes across brain properties to behaviour still remains unknown. In order to investigate this genome-brain-behaviour cascade, each project carried out by the junior research group involves the collection of genetic data. Furthermore, freely available data from large and representative samples is analysed to gain the most robust and replicable insights possible.

Understanding the association between brain network connectivity and extinction learning

In order to succeed in the work environment, it is mandatory to master new skills and memorize relevant information. Oftentimes, it is also necessary to update or forget about irrelevant information. This ability, known as extinction learning, is characterized by profound interindividual differences.

Using advanced multimodal imaging techniques, the junior research group investigates the extent to which these learning differences can be attributed to the structural and functional properties of specific brain networks. In addition, related projects also investigate how learning processes can affect the connectivity of respective networks. To this end, the junior research group works with data from simultaneous EEG and 3T as well as 7T fMRI recordings.