(former group - now in collaboration with the University of Helsinki, Finland)
The Interplay of Obesity and the Brain
Obesity is accompanied by disadvantageous decision-making behaviour. This is especially true in the face of tempting rewarding options. Behaviour can even be paradoxical, in that actions are initiated that are seemingly incongruent with an individual’s explicit intentions, e.g. if subjects are attempting to conform to a specific diet and fail repeatedly. Recent research highlights the importance of obesity-associated differences in the functional and structural layout of the brain.
Our goal is to understand the cognitive and neurobiological basis of disadvantageous decision-making behaviour in obesity. A special focus is on disentangling predisposing factors from acquired behavioural and neurobiological changes during the development and maintenance of obesity.
We use functional magnetic resonance imaging, behavioural assessment, physiological measures and sensory stimulation in combination with model-based and multivariate analysis techniques to address our research questions. Of particular interest to us is the influence of automatic processes which are not under conscious control and are most probably the result of implicit learning processes. In this context, the role of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin will be elucidated. Based on the insights gained, our aim is to develop intervention regimens to positively influence decision-making behaviour in obese subjects.
The independent Junior Research Group ‘Decision-making in Obesity: Neurobiology, Behaviour and Plasticity’ is part of the Integrated Research and Treatment Centre ‘AdiposityDiseases’ and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The Junior Research Group constitutes one part of the Leipzig O’Brain Project and contributes to the Collaborative Research Centre 1052 ‘Obesity Mechanisms’, subproject A05, funded by the German Research Foundation.
MRI – We use structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess structure, function and connectivity of the human brain.
Gustatory and olfactory stimulation – We use a fully automated stimulator to apply gustatory and olfactory stimuli in our experiments.
Behavioral assessment – We develop and implement novel behavioural tasks to assess characteristics of decision-making behaviour and implicit learning processes.
Neuropsychology – We use standardized neuropsychological tests and questionnaires to assess cognitive function, eating behaviour, and personality traits.
Physiological measures – We use heart rate mesurements to assess physiological responses during decision-making and learning.
Eyetracking – We use eye-tracking to measure e.g. attention biases to visual stimuli.
Genotyping – We use information on common genetic variation to investigate the influence of genetic markers on the brain, decision-making, learning and eating behaviour.