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Research Training Program

Placing perception in context

München, 05/24/2016

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft has announced that it will fund a new interdisciplinary Research Training Group at LMU, which will seek to elucidate the principles that underlie sensory perception.

Foto: tktyfy / fotolia.com

How do we perceive the world around us and what neural mechanisms constitute the basis of sensory perception? These are the questions to be tackled by a new DFG-funded Research Training Group at LMU, which will be devoted to the elucidation of Context-Dependent Perception and its Neural Bases. “How a given physical stimulus is perceived depends crucially on the context in which it presents itself,” says Christian Leibold, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at the LMU Biocenter and Coordinator of the new program. Previous experience, predefined intentions and momentary sensory impressions can all have an impact on perception. For example, our perception of the dominant colors in a portrait changes, depending whether the wall on which it is hung is painted red or blue.

Neuroscientists have yet to develop a coherent account of how perception and context interact. This, on the other hand, is hardly surprising, given the number of factors that appear to play a role. Leibold explains the approach that will be pursued in the context of the new program as follows: “Our basic assumption is that, in comparable or related situations, the brain pursues basically similar goals.” Hence, one of the major aims of the Research Training Program is to work out what these similarities consist in and to classify the various factors that affect them.

In order to uncover the principles that underlie sensory perception, representatives of a variety of disciplines, including Neurobiology, Psychology, Medicine and Computational Neuroscience, will work together. They will use advanced imaging procedures and electrophysiological techniques to observe, dissect and interpret neuronal processes and develop theoretical models to accommodate and explicate their findings. Problems of clinical relevance, such as the question of how disorders of the vestibular system (which affect one’s sense of balance) perturb visual perception, will also be investigated.

The interdisciplinary aspect of the program is an integral part of the educational concept. Doctoral students will undertake tandem projects under the supervision of experienced specialists in two distinct disciplines. The new Research Training Group is formally affiliated with the Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences.