Author: Johanna Habicht

Tobias named a FENS-Kavli Scholar for 2021

It is our great pleasure to announce that Tobias has been named a FENS-Kavli Scholar for 2021. He will be joining a network of 30 Early- and Mid-career neuroscientists from 13 different countries to work together and shape the future of Neuroscience in Europe through scientific exchange, advocacy and outreach.

Article on teenage mental health in The Conversation

Last month, Tobias discussed in The Conversation how changes in the brain may explain why many mental health problems arise during adolescence.  Have a read yourself and find out more about what brain changes happen during adolescents and how they can affect our mental health:

Emerging metacognition allows adolescents to ignore false advice

Adolescents aspire for independence and are often accused of not following the advice of others. Here, we investigated metacognitive development and advice taking across childhood and adolescence. To do this, we created a new space-themed game where participants made simple decisions about the numbers of, for example blue versus yellow, aliens there were on a planet. Participants were also given advice by a helpful ‘space advisor’ and could decide whether to stick with or switch their original decision. We found that adolescents, compared with children, had better metacognitive skills in that they were better able to intuit when they had made a good decision. This metacognitive skill allowed them to better resist misleading advice from others. ‘I know better, and I know I know better!’. More information can be found here:Moses-Payne ME, Habicht J, Bowler A, Steinbeis N & Hauser TU (2021). I know better! Emerging metacognition allows adolescents to ignore false advice. Developmental Science 

Studying your Brain with the Smartphone

We had the pleasure to talk about the brain and our research in Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants YouTube channel that brings science into the classroom. Check out Tobias talking about Studying your Brain with the Smartphone and learn fun facts about the brain, how the brain changes during development and how we study the brain. He also talks about our new smartphone app Brain Explorer that everyone around the world can play and help us to understand the brain even better.

Children gather more information when it is not costly

In our recent paper, we are investigating how information gathering changes over childhood and adolescence. We found that children gathered substantially more information before making a decision, but only if it came at no extra costs for sampling information. Using further computational modelling we showed that this effect was driven by a later emergence of subjective sampling costs for gathering information. These findings help us to understand how such cognitive functions develop, and how different information gathering impairments arise in adolescence-related psychiatric disorders.  More information can be found here:Bowler A, Habicht J, Moses-Payne ME, Steinbeis N, Moutoussis M & Hauser TU (2021). Children perform extensive information gathering when it is not costly. Cognition 104535 

Join us! We are looking for a PostDoc

We are looking for a new PostDoc to join our team to undertake exciting new research. You would be working on understanding the neural and computational mechanisms underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) using a combination of computational modelling, neuroimaging, pharmacology and smartphone-based data collection. If this sounds inspiring and you would like to know more, check out the details here.

Propranolol modulates value-free random exploration

In our recent paper, we are investigating the catecholaminergic bases of different exploration strategies. Previously it was thought that exploration-exploitation trade-off is solved by using computationally demanding exploration algorithms, however, we show that humans also use additional computationally cheaper strategies using a newly developed 3-armed bandit task. Furthermore, we show that one of these heuristics, value-free random exploration (ϵ-greedy), is modulated by noradrenaline. Upon administration of a single dose of propranolol, we found a reduction in value-free random exploration. This could be interesting in the context of disorders of exploration, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and how aberrant catecholamine function might contribute to the core behavioural impairments. More information can be found here:Dubois M, Habicht J, Michely J, Moran R, Dolan RJ & Hauser TU (2021). Human complex exploration strategies are enriched by noradrenaline-modulated heuristics eLife 10:e59907

A rise of OCD: OCD symptoms are more affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than other mental health symptoms.

In our new preprint, we present data of our longitudinal study in which we tracked obsessive-compulsive, anxiety and depression symptoms in the general public during the first Covid-19 pandemic wave. We show an elevation across all psychiatric symptoms. However, while depression scores decreased and anxiety symptoms remained stable over time, obsessive-compulsive symptoms rose further even though the peak of the first pandemic wave had passed. These OC symptoms were directly linked to Covid-related information seeking which gave rise to a higher adherence to government Covid-19 guidelines. For more details, see here: Loosen, A. M., Skvortsova, V., & Hauser, T. U. (2020). A Selective Increase in OC Symptoms is Driving Information Seeking and Guideline Adherence During the Covid-19 Pandemic. MedRxiv, 2020.12.08.20245803.

Making a case for a computational psychiatry of juvenile obsessive-compulsive disorder

In a recent paper published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, we review studies relevant to a computational psychiatry of juvenile OCD. Our investigation shows that juvenile OCD is mainly characterised by the disruption of complex reasoning systems. Based on reviewed findings, we suggest a new neurocomputational framework that illustrates how observed alterations may arise with development. Providing testable hypotheses this framework can now guide future research endeavours. More information can be found here: Loosen AM & Hauser TU (2020). Towards a computational psychiatry of juvenile obsessive-compulsive disorder Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 14;118:631-642 

ERC Starting Grant awarded

It is our great pleasure to announce that Tobias was awarded the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to study the impact of endogenous brain fluctuations on decision-making. This will help us to undertake new and exiting research using a novel neuroimaging framework, which will strengthen the understanding in how the inner workings of the brain guide our behaviour.