Top researcher to join the MPI

Natalie Sebanz, 29 year-old Austrian scientist who currently works as assistant professor at Rutgers University in Newark

August 21, 2007

Natalie Sebanz, 29 year-old Austrian scientist who currently works as assistant professor at Rutgers University in Newark, will join the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. She completed her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Munich and went on to carry out postdoctoral research at both Max Planck and Rutgers University. In 2006 she was also a research fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Bielefeld University.
Sebanz has been working on the question of how people coordinate their actions to reach common goals for several years, and she has organized several symposia on this topic. Her work on this topic has appeared in major journals in the field of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience. She was an editor for the book “Disorders of Volition”, published by MIT Press in 2006.

Project Description
This research aims to understand the cognitive and neural mechanisms supporting our ability to act together with others. Joint action is a fundamental aspect of human life; for example, think about two surgeons jointly operating on a patient, two friends moving furniture together, or two pianists performing a duet. Yet, cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience have had little to say on this topic because for many years perception, action, and cognition were studied without taking their role in social interaction seriously.

The proposed project will bridge the gap between the social, cognitive, and neurosciences in the domain of joint action. Three processes are critical for joint action: task co-representation (the ability to form a mental representation of a co-actor’s task); joint attention (the ability to attend to objects or events together); and temporal coordination (the ability to adjust the timing of one’s own actions to others’ actions). These three processes will be investigated using a combination of behavioural, electrophysiological, brain imaging and patient studies. The combination of these methods will allow for a detailed understanding of the mechanisms involved in joint action. Overall, this project will help to establish joint action as one of the central topics in social cognitive neuroscience. (European Science Foundation)

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