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Projects

ADHD in the classroom

Within the frame of the RTG’s subproject "ADHD in the classroom", teachers’ expectations of students suffering from ADHD shall be examined (which expectations exist, can be changed or are difficult to change and to what extent do these expectations of the teachers influence the pupils’ school achievements?). Once these basics have been investigated, an intervention will be developed to help students with ADHD to successfully cope with school demands and to reduce stress and working load among teachers. The project is thus located at the interface between clinical child and youth psychology and educational psychology and is supervised by Prof. Christiansen (clinical child and youth psychology) and Prof. Schwinger (educational psychology).

Do Bayesian and associative models of learning explain individual differences in retrospective revaluation?

The two subprojects, investigate whether individual human learning behavior shown under naturalistic conditions (virtual reality) can be described by Bayesian models of learning. In particular, the learning dynamic of these models shall be compared with traditional associative models. As we expect model differences to be measured easily, this investigation will be carried out using retrospective revaluation paradigms. Project 2 focuses on the theoretical component of the tandem project, while Project 12 focuses on experimental testing in behavioral experiments with humans.

When and why does exposure therapy fail in patients with chronic back pain?

This project aims to investigate the role of expectation violation in the context of psychological treatment (e.g., exposure treatment) of chronic pain.

Although exposure therapy is effective for treating chronic pain conditions, especially in highly fear-avoidant patients, an appreciable number of chronic pain patients do not benefit. Thus, further understanding of the mechanisms of action seems promising to enhance treatment success and to improve therapeutic instructions. Expectation violation will be investigated as a potential strategy to enhance treatment success of exposure-based treatments. Moreover potential conditioning peculiarities in individuals suffering from chronic pain will be examined. Mechanisms that might impede the expectation change in light of successful expectation violation will be studied.

Social-cognitive processes underlying the persistence of (un)trustworthiness expectations

This subproject investigates how a dispositional sensitivity to injustice from a victim’s perspective ("victim sensitivity") is related to the persistence of (un)trustworthiness expectations, and which social-cognitive processes (e.g., avoidance learning) lie behind this relationship. In addition, it will be examined in which way these social-cognitive processes in turn contribute to stabilizing individual differences in victim sensitivity. Laboratory studies will be carried out on PC as well as in an immersive (i.e. "virtual reality”) environment.

Stability and change of expectations in extinction and renewal

We assume that expectations are based on associations or, in other words, internal representations of the relations of environmental events. These associations allow the prediction of future events. Associative theories of learning deal with how prediction errors are used for modification of association strengths, so that prediction errors are minimized concerning future predictions. As prediction errors also influence attention processes, we aim to investigate (by implementing predictive learning experiments) how attention is regulated by learning processes and how this contributes to stabilize or modify expectations. Since extinction and renewal have proved to be suitable experimental conditions for investigations in this context, we intend to use these procedures to evaluate how associative mechanisms deal with expectation violations.

Individual differences in stability and change of expectations - What is the role played by personality traits and serotonin?

This project investigates personality traits and neurobiological mechanisms linked to expectation violation. Within this project, the stability and modification of expectations will be recorded by self-disclosure measures and behavior observation as well as by electrocortical indices using EEG. Activity of serotonin is experimentally manipulated with pharmacological agents. Additionally, it shall be investigated in what way personality characteristics moderate other GRK studies’ effects.

Age differences and age-related changes in the persistence of expectations

By carrying out experiments with children (age range 6 to 12 years), this subproject aims to investigate whether the persistence of expectations about one's future performance varies with age and which cognitive, motivational and social factors (such as the source of feedback on one’s performance) explain such age differences.

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Maintaining (versus modifying) critical attitudes towards psychotherapy

In this subproject, the role of expectations towards psychotherapy will be analyzed as a major predictor of treatment success. For example patients with somatic complaints or alcohol/drug addiction often have a negative treatment expectation, even if psychotherapy was a "first-line treatment". Experimental studies shall therefore investigate the development, persistence as well as possibilities of change of critical attitudes towards psychotherapy, especially in high-risk groups.

Parallel to the implementation of the project, there is a possibility of working as a psychotherapist at the IPAM Marburg (with focus on behavioral therapy) or of completing a psychotherapy training programme ("Marburger Modell").

Expectation and selective attention

This project examines how humans use selective visual attention to cope with the large amount of incoming information in a visual scene. We assume that humans use knowledge they have acquired in former encounters with similar scenes to predict the most promising item to attend to in an upcoming scene. This project will examine this assumption by using visual search tasks in which stimuli are presented in various situational contexts. As human observers are usually not aware of the attentional mechanisms they are using, visual attention will be measured by means of behavioral performance and eye tracking.

Investigation of expectation violation in laboratory rats: incentive salience, signal detection and the role of ultrasound vocalizations

In this project, an established rat model for sign- and goal-tracking is used to investigate the role of external and internal (i.e. genetic, neuronal) factors and mechanisms in these phenotypes. So-called sign- and goal-trackers, as determined by a Pavlovian food-rewarded task, not only respond differently to cue vs. reward presentation, but also behave differently to expectation violations, e.g. concerning extinction or changes in response/outcome contingencies. Among others, it will be tested whether specific genetic factors are involved and whether certain neurochemical mechanisms (especially prefrontal and striatal) play a central role. In addition, psychological explanations shall be examined for sign-tracking, such as conditioned approach or reinforcement.

 

Stereotypes against Muslims in the face of expectation violations – attitude change or persistence?

The aim of this project is the investigation of expectation violations in the context of stereotypes and prejudices against minorities, especially Muslims. Stereotypes against Muslims comprise aggressive and violent behavior of Muslim men, lack of integration, incompetence, backwardness, and oppression of Muslim women. Exemplary questions investigated in Project 11 are: How do such stereotypes influence individual judgments concerning guilt and responsibility in the context of a crime? Does the ethnical background of a perpetrator in the context of sexual aggression affect guilt attributions? In how far do expectation-violating information have an impact on individual attitudes and how can we validly assess attitude change and maintenance?

Intervention strategies against the immunization of intergroup expectations

Prejudiced people usually defend their prejudice and stereotypes as well as their discriminatory behavior and violence. Reasons for such
assimilations and immunizations can be found
• on the individual level, in strivings for consistency and avoidance of (identity) threats as well as,
• on the social level, in social influence processes.
Intervention strategies often use persuasion and intergroup contact. Moderators that determine effectiveness of such interventions are
• personality variables of the recipients (e.g. right wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation),
• on the social level, group membership of the intervention agent and
• ingroup support of the participants for their biased positions.
Aim of the PhD project will be to study the influence of these moderators as inhibiting or promoting factors of change of negative outgroup stereotypes and behavior.

Expectation maintenance vs. change in animal models: Serotonin-orchestrating, associative learning and neuronal plasticity processes

Applying a translational approach to rats and humans, we plan to investigate neurobiological mechanisms underlying psychological processes involved in expectation change vs. maintenance after expectation violations by means of a translational approach including rats and humans. The serotonergic (5-HT) system has been repeatedly implicated in cognitive flexibility, with alterations in its components resulting in exaggerated persistence of expectations, as reflected by impairments in extinction and/or reversal learning. Brain 5-HT synthesis depends on the rate limiting enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (gene: TPH2), with extracellular levels of 5-HT being primarily regulated by reuptake through the 5-HT transporter (SERT; gene: SLC6A4). SLC6A4 is thought to function as a plasticity gene, increasing sensitivity to environmental changes by promoting neuronal plasticity processes, such as neurogenesis. In humans and other primates, genetic alterations in both the TPH2 and the SLC6A4 gene (e.g. 5-HTTLPR) have been associated with impairments in extinction and/or reversal learning. Their crucial role was confirmed by means of genetic rodent models, yet little is known about underlying behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms. Here, we therefore plan to study underlying mechanisms that result in exaggerated persistence of expectations by means of TPH2 and SLC6A4 knockout rats at the behavioral and neurobiological level. Specifically, we plan to test (1) the hypothesis that the impairment in extinction learning in the two genetic models reflecting extreme personality traits is due to impaired inhibitory learning, but not impaired learning per se, yet associated with a lack of relevant neuronal plasticity processes; (2) whether environmental enrichment promoting neuronal plasticity processes leads to a concomitant improvement in extinction learning; and (3) whether deficits in extinction learning are specific for aversive situations or whether they occur in appetitive situations as well. To this aim, we will perform our established fear conditioning paradigm during which we focus on extinction learning as a measure for persistence of expectations, testing the hypothesis that the impairment in extinction learning seen in TPH2 and SLC6A4 knockout rats is due to impaired inhibitory learning, but not impaired learning per se. Inhibitory learning plays a central role in current theories of extinction and its importance is indicated by several recovery phenomena, such as the renewal effect. The conditioned emotional response will be assessed by means of freezing behavior and aversive 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USV). As neuronal plasticity markers, neurogenesis and related measures will be determined. To support causality, we will further test whether environmental enrichment promoting neuronal plasticity processes leads to a concomitant improvement in extinction learning. Importantly, the genetic approach in rats will be paralleled by human studies focusing on inhibitory learning during extinction in a fear conditioning paradigm, in which 5-HT system polymorphisms will be determined.