Science

European Research Council finances research into how brain makes predictions

The basis on which these predictions are based, as well as how the interaction of processes is involved in a different way over the course of life, is the subject of the research work done by Professor Yee Lee Shing, who holds the headquarters of Evolutionary Psychology Goethe University in Frankfurt since January.

According to Professor Shing, the brain is basically a “prediction engine” that is steadily busy comparing new environmental inputs with predictions created by internal brain models. Only in this way can the human brain always adapt to new situations and perceive new environments.

Until now, however, no researcher has looked at the nature of the underlying internal models themselves or how new experiences affect these models. What is also unknown so far is how such a supposed universal principle manifests itself in different brains – for example in the brains of young or old.

Long-term memory that may be the basis of internal brain models is potentially episodic and semantic memory, personal experiences from one place, and knowledge through learning the world on the other. Although children are better at remembering in episodic contexts, older people can rely more on their semantic knowledge.

Shing plans to explore empirically the interaction of different types of memory and new experiences. Using magnetic resonance facilities available at the Goethe University Brain Imaging Center in Frankfurt, he seeks to learn more about what cognitive and neurological interactions take place in the brain, first and foremost with the help of healthy participants of various ages. In the long run, her research work could help shed light on clinical conditions with divergent prediction, such as autism and schizophrenia. The European Research Council (ERC) will support the program for 5 years with 1.5 million euros. It will support positions for two PhD and two postdoctoral researchers.

Born in 1980 in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Yee Lee Shing went to the United States at the age of 19 to study psychology. From 2004 to 2015 he worked at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, and from 2015 he worked at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

She was still in Scotland when she submitted her proposal for the program. The decision to leave the Stirling and accept the position in Frankfurt is linked to Brexit, except that her husband and two children are Germans. “I left Great Britain because we thought it was uncertain. After so many years in Europe I do not want to live outside the EU, “he said. He is now looking forward to a productive work environment at the Institute of Psychology at the Goethe University in Frankfurt.