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Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Psychologie
AE Biopsychologie
IB 6-121 - Postfach 18
D-44780 Bochum

Phone: +49 234 - 32 28213
Fax: +49 234 - 32 14377


News & Views

Embracing your emotions: affective state impacts lateralisation of human embraces

huggingDid you ever wonder why people sometimes hug you from the left side and sometimes from the right? No? Well, you should, because you can infer whether the hug was emotional depending on its laterality. Biopsychologists from Bochum conducted two experiments, one in the laboratory and one in the field, to test (1) if hugs are lateralized on the population level and (2) if the emotional state alters the side preference of hugs in accordance with prevailing theories of emotional lateralization. In both experiments, they found a population level asymmetry in hugs to the right side. This lateralization was associated with motor preferences such as handedness and footedness. However, they also found that the emotional state regardless of positive or negative changed the lateralization of the hug significantly to the left indicating an influence of emotional states on this important social behavior. This data support the notion that the right hemisphere is dominant in emotional processing, regardless of emotional valence. So the next time someone hugs you, pay attention to the side of the hug and it might just give you an idea about the other person's emotional state!

Packheiser, J., Rook, N., Dursun, Z., Mesenhöller, J., Wenglorz, A., Güntürkün, O., Ocklenburg, S., Embracing your emotions: affective state impacts lateralisation of human embraces, Psychological Research (2019) 83:26–36.

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Biopsychology Research Colloquium

Schedule SS 2019

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The smell of fear

Do you know the smell of fear? Did you know that anxious individuals exhibit heightened sensitivity towards stress signals that they smell in sweat? But can oxytocin, a hormone that is associated with social affiliation, diminish behavioral and neural responses to social chemosensory stress cues? To provide an answer to this question, social neuroscientists from Bonn and biopsychologists from Bochum tested subjects in a forced-choice emotional face recognition task with neutral to fearful stimuli while they were exposed to both sweat stimuli and control odors following intranasal oxytocin or placebo (PLC) administration, respectively. Beforehand, axillary sweat had been obtained from healthy male donors undergoing the Trier Social Stress Test (stress) and bicycle ergometer training (sport). On the neural level, oxytocin reduced stress-evoked responses in the amygdala. It also reinstated the functional connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and the fusiform face area that was disrupted by stress odors under placebo. These findings open the door to a completely new role for oxytocin in the modulation of chemosensory stress communication. Mechanistically, this effect appears to be rooted in a downregulation of stress-induced limbic activations and concomitant strengthening of top-down control descending from the anterior cingulate cortex to the fusiform face area.

Maier, A., Scheele, D., Spengler, F.B., Menba, T., Mohr, F., Güntürkün, O., Stoffel-Wagner, B., Kinfe, T.M., Maier, W., Khalsa, S.S., Hurlemann, R., Oxytocin reduces a chemosensory-induced stress bias in social perception, Neuropsychopharmacol., 2019, 44: 281–288.


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Meta-control and the anterior commissure in pigeons

Meta-control describes the phenomenon that one hemisphere takes charge of the response when the two hemispheres plan different actions. The neural fundament of meta-control is possibly a sort of power-play across the commissures. To test this assumption, biopsychologists from Bochum and neurophysiologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing) tested pigeons in a task, in which each hemisphere aimed to peck on a different color pattern. In the critical trials, the animals had to choose between pecking keys that elicit different responses from each hemisphere. The experimental pigeons were tested in this meta-control task both before and after transection of the commissura anterior. This fiber pathway is the largest pallial commissure of the avian brain. The results revealed that meta-control seemed indeed to be modified by interhemispheric transmission via this commissural system.

Ünver, E., Xiao, Q. and Güntürkün, O., Meta-control in pigeons (Columba livia) and the role of the commissura anterior, Symmetry, 2019, 11(2), 124.


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Emerging category representation in the visual forebrain of pigeons

The world surrounding us offers an endless variety of scenes and objects. But just by looking around we effortlessly categorize them in categories like furniture, people, etc. in a blink of an eye. How is this possible? To approach this question, biopsychologists and theoretical neuroscientists from Bochum confronted pigeons with a large number of photographs of objects (vegetables, animals, household items, human faces, etc.), while recording from neurons at different hierarchies of their visual system. Using a linear classifier, the scientists found that the population activity in the primary visual entopallium did not code for any category within these pictures. The higher visual associative area MVL, however, distinguished easily between animate and inanimate objects. Even just about 30 MVL-neurons were sufficient to disambiguate between these categories. It is important to note that such a categorization was not required by the pigeons but emerged by itself from the population code. It seems that visual stimuli are processed along the visual pathways in a hierarchical manner. With every stage in the hierarchy, neurons respond selectively to more complex features, transforming the population representation of the stimuli and making it easy to read-out category information in higher visual areas.

Azizi, A.H., Pusch, R., Koenen, C., Klatt, S., Kellermann, J., Böcker,F., Thiele, S., Güntürkün, O. and Cheng, S., Revealing category representation in a visual forebrain area of pigeons (Columba livia) using a multi-variate approach, Behav. Brain Res., 2019, 356: 423-434.


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How to recruit the other hemisphere or to keep it out of power

Functional brain asymmetries depend both on hemisphere-specific factors and lateralized commissural interactions. But how are these factors organized in the brain and how are they translated into behavior? Because birds are visually lateralized, biopsychologists from Bochum and neurophysiologists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing) tested pigeons monocularly in a color discrimination task while recording from single visuomotor forebrain neuron. All birds learned faster and responded quickly with the right eye and left hemisphere. This asymmetry depended on several factors. One of them concerns the interhemispheric interaction via the commissura anterior: The dominant left hemisphere was able to adjust the timing of activity patterns of right hemispheric neurons via asymmetrical commissural interactions, such that the right hemisphere came too late to control the response. These results imply that hemispheric dominance in birds is realized in part by shifts of the contralateral spike time. Thus, this paper sketches a completely novel picture on the mechanisms of interhemispheric interactions and suggest that the control of the action time of the other hemisphere is a key variable for brain asymmetries. Organisms with lateralized brains need a commissural system that enables the two hemispheres to flexibly switch back and force between recruiting contralateral resources or inhibiting them. According to the results of this paper, this is realized in pigeons by adjusting contralateral spike times. If a similar mechanism could be discovered in humans, it could solve a core riddle of brain asymmetries in our species.

Xiao, Q. and Güntürkün, O., Asymmetrical commissural control of the subdominant hemisphere in pigeons, Cell Reports, 2018, 25, 1171–1180.


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The Neurochemistry of Chronic Fatigue

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that starts before the age of 16 and is associated with pain and swellings of the joints but often also with severe fatigue. Especially this condition is characterized as overwhelming and as a serious reduction of life quality. Understanding the complex interactions between the immune and the neural systems of these patients could provide novel possibilities for Pharma-Food interventions in order to improve the quality of life of patients suffering from chronic inflammation. To this end, pharmacologists and rheumatologists from Utrecht university as well as biopsychologists from Bochum analyzed serum samples from JIA patients with an extremely sensitive high-performance liquid chromatography and discovered signatures of an important imbalance between glutamate and various monoamines. These major changes of the brain’s neurochemistry could explain the negative implications of JIA for well-being, including fatigue, cognition, anxiety, and depression.

Korte-Bouws, G.A.H., Albers, E., Voskamp, M., Hendriksen, H., De Leeuw, L. R., Güntürkün, O., de Roock, S., Vastert, S. J., and Korte, S.M., Juvenile arthritis patients suffering from chronic inflammation have increased activity of both IDO and GTP-CH1 pathways, but decreased BH4 efficacy: implications for well-being, including fatigue, cognitive impairment, anxiety and depression, Pharmaceutical, 2019, 12(1): 9.


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Research discovers that pigeons are lazy

Do animals prefer to earn their food by hard work instead of getting it for free? Well, many studies indeed show that rats may prefer earned over free food. This unexpected phenomenon is called “contra-freeloading”. In rats the transmitter dopamine—which is involved in incentive motivation and effort— facilitates the occurrence of this preference. Does this also apply to pigeons? Biopsychologists from Bochum tested this in pigeons of which some received a dopamine D2/3 receptor agonist. The birds were exposed to a bowl that contained grains only (easy food) and a bowl that contained grains covered with sawdust (harder food). The animals were tested under various conditions (hungry vs. satiated, successive vs. simultaneous presentation of the options, different sequences of presentation, different doses of dopamine receptor agonist, etc.). There was a single consistent result: Pigeons preferred easy food over difficultly earned one. The scientists could show that this was not due to the option that their drug intervention did not work: It worked; but, different from rats, its action consisted of reducing—rather than magnifying— the attractiveness of the harder food option. Overall, pigeons seem to enjoy chilling more than investing effort. Sounds familiar, isn’t it?

Anselme, P., Dreher, T., Güntürkün, O., Pigeons consistently prefer easy over harder access to food: No reversal after direct dopaminergic stimulation, Behav. Neurosci., 2018, 132: 293-301.


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PhD Thesis Mehdi Behroozi

On Wednesday, the 19th of December 2018, Mehdi successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled "Establishing a Novel fMRI Approach to Investigate Visual Cognitive Properties in Pigeons". Mehdi’s PhD studies are an incredible tour de force through all complexities and difficulties that face a brave person who is establishing a completely novel technical approach to realize a breakthrough in cognitive neuroscience. The committee, consisting of Annemie van der Linden (Univ. Antwerp), Martina Manns, Nikolai Axmacher and Onur Güntürkün, were all deeply impressed by these achievements but nevertheless grilled Mehdi heavily by dozens of intricate questions. Mehdi stood the ground until everybody was convinced that he fully deserves to be awarded a PhD. Accompanied by a long applause of all Biopsycho’s, he then put on his mortar board that incorporated a small MRI system to scan in the future even smaller animals. Congratulations Mehdi! We all are very proud of you!


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