Young researchers learn scientific and cultural understanding in a European network

by Birgit Trogisch
Research Cooperation Manager (Brain Products)

The Marie Curie Initial Training Networks (ITN) represent a European initiative to improve the career prospects for young scientists through transnational networking mechanisms. Brain Products is involved in such a project named ACT – Action Research: Improving understanding and methodologies in early development.

Dr. Vincent Reid teaching psychology at Lancaster University (UK) is responsible for coordinating all efforts and tasks in the project ACT. The mid-term review, part of the evaluation process led by the European Commission, was successfully realized in September 2013. However, the early stage researchers have to present their study results and objectives not only to the funding institution but also to the management board twice a year. They are focused on the following research topics:

Language processing and action understanding (using EEG)

In order to understand the emergence of cognitive structures supporting language, it is required to understand the basic aspects of semantic expectations related to goal directed action early in development.

Semantics related to object knowledge and action prediction (using eye tracking)

As goal directed actions are often performed with a specific object that facilitates that action (e.g. a hammer for driving nails into wood), so an additional layer of information related to that object must be processed by an observer.  This could enhance the speed at which decisions on the appropriateness of an observed action are taken, or it could lead to assumptions about the nature of intended actions.

Prospective control during manual exploration (using motion capture)

This project will seek to map relations between action development and prospective control during reaching. A specific emphasis will be placed on posture control and prospective grasping.

Goal anticipation during observation of actions of others (using eye tracking)

We know from previous work that infants anticipate the goal of actions of others, if they have experience performing the same actions themselves. To date little is known about the underlying mechanisms behind this anticipatory ability.

The interplay of top-down and bottom-up constraints in the selection of action

This project will investigate how perceptual processes induce constraints in choosing an action to perform and how this interacts with decision-making processes and judgments.

Using reinforcement learning and internal models to map intention to action

This project aims to determine the mechanisms underlying how learning takes place and how it interacts with internal processes related to intentional action perception and production.

Action execution during collaborative acts (using EEG)

Frequency activity in the brain will be recorded when actions are performed in isolation or in collaboration with others. The aim is to investigate how the brain processes collaborative actions early in development.

Understanding social interactions of others (using eye tracking)

Understanding the elements that are required for the detection of important social information and the cues that social information provide to other forms of learning are in the focus of this project.

The creation of trial analysis tools suitable for infant populations

New technology is needed for the new field of developmental cognitive neuroscience as the current technology does not cater for the challenges of infant EEG data.

Developing software/hardware that integrates eye tracking and EEG

The aim is to develop stable and easy-to-use behavior-brain interaction systems in collaboration with European SME research oriented companies and university users.

Developing analysis tools for Qualisys motion capture data specifically targeting developmental data

This project will focus on developing tools that make this process easier, more accessible, robust, and reliable.

In addition to these regular meetings, workshops take place transferring special knowledge, e.g. about eye-tracking, motion capture, electroencephalography and event-related potentials, registration techniques, and analyzing methods.

After visits to Birkbeck, University of London (UK), Tobii Technology (Sweden), Uppsala Universitet (Sweden), and the company Qualisys AB (Sweden) it was the coordinator’s turn to host the project meeting in September 2014. He chose a very beautiful and quiet place in the countryside near Lancaster, called Browshome Hall. It is the oldest surviving family home in Lancashire. The first house was built in the early 15th century by Richard Parker, but the hall that stands today was erected after 1507. In 1807 an impressive portrait gallery was added. Since then the façade of Browshome Hall has survived virtually unchanged. In 1975 a surprised Robert Parker inherited the building from his distant fourth cousin. Though it was in poor repair he decided not to pull it down, instead he began with its restauration. Today Browshome Hall is not only a family home but also a quiet place inviting for meetings and events in Lancashire where the participants can concentrate on their objectives.

Thus, we have got the chance to combine modern science and old history during a network meeting with interesting talks and discussions. Many thanks to Dr. Reid and his team for organizing this event!