Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition


How do people acquire language? How can you train your brain? What is the effect of stress on an unborn child? LIBC research topics range from language processing to cognitive robotics, and from psychiatric disorders to the impact of social factors on human behaviour. Meet several main research topics called 'hotspots'.

The aim of the field of artificial intelligence is to endow computer systems with the capability of human-like reasoning and decision-making. One branch of artificial intelligence, machine learning, can help researchers make sense of complex, high-dimensional data that traditional statistical methods would not allow for. On the other hand, intelligent systems such as robots, the mechanisms by which they learn, and the ways in which they interact with humans are interesting objects of study themselves. The AI hotspot of LIBC aims to connect researchers interested in the different branches of artificial intelligence.

One of the greatest challenges for human science is to understand how the human mind evolves and develops from infancy to adolescence, and how children learn to cope with the challenges of adulthood and acquire the complex cognitive, motivational and emotional abilities that enable humans to adapt to a variety of environments. LIBC-Junior scientists are excited about the possibility of taking developmental neuroscience to the next level by joining forces and combining perspectives.

Language is part of human behaviour and probably one of the most complex cognitive skills. Within the LIBC hotspot Language, a group of researchers is working on a better understanding of language functions and their neural basis.  The research being carried out ranges from studying how people acquire language, auditory processing of speech, non-verbal communication, reading aloud, speech production to multilingualism and it includes clinical aspects as well such as hearing impairment, stuttering, aphasia.

The CoPAN labgroup is part of the Leiden University LIBC and the Institute of Psychology, the Cognitive Psychology Unit, and is affiliated with the Cognition Behavior and Evolution Network CBEN. Our primary aim is to get insight into the psychological and neurophysiological underpinnings of emotions and social decisions in humans as well as in great apes. The research methods vary from fMRI, psychophysiology (pupillometry, thermography, heart rate, skin conductance), eye-tracking, transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation, continuous flash suppression to behavioral observations in animals (including the Facial Action Coding System).

It is well-known that acute stress can lead to acute disturbances in cognition, mood and behaviour, and is a major precipitating and maintenance factor for long lasting disturbances like affective disorders and in the case of severe traumatic stress, posttraumatic stress disorder.  Stress related disorders are among the most frequent medical disorders, with a huge impact on people’s life and society.  Furthermore, research has shown that exposure to chronic stress during childhood, like emotional maltreatment, has detrimental effects on a child’s psychological and biological development.

Visit the LIBC Stress & Emotion website.

Humans are incredibly diverse, and capable of many amazing things. Moreover, we have an impressive ability to learn, improve, and/or develop these capacities throughout their lives. Sometimes this takes considerable or even extreme effort, but other times it comes easily. To some, growth seems to come naturally, while for others there may be significant obstacles. Understanding the origins and consequences of our differences also offer opportunities for researchers to apply our findings in a societal context.

In this hotspot we focus on a broad range of things that humans can do and, more importantly, can get better at. This includes abilities we don’t always have to learn explicitly, such as mimicking treatment effects when receiving placebos, or inferring structure in extremely complex stimuli like when we feel a beat in music, or navigate social behavioral rules. But we also highlight the effortful development of human skills in three main domains: (1) cognitive functioning, (2) health behaviors, and (3) prosociality. Within and across these domains, we aim to answer questions on how we can improve ourselves, ultimately leading to better cognitive functioning, better health, better awareness of self and others, and overall improved well-being. 

This also includes an interest in experts – how do some people become ‘superhumans’ with rare and extreme skills? From problem-solving to sports, meditation, arts, and many other fields, people have the capacity to develop highly specialized skills. Focusing on these experts allows us to clarify what non-experts may need to develop these skills, or even to assist people who have deficiencies in these areas, or are disadvantaged in some way. 

Humans are fundamentally a social species, rather than individualists. As such, people create organizations beyond the individual—structures that range from dyads, families, and groups to cities, civilizations, and cultures. The LIBC-social hotspot is interested in social neuroscience.

Visit the LIBC Social website.

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