What are the challenges for cognitive flexibility

Lise Meitner Research Group Cognition and Plasticity

Cognitive processes are organized in large networks in our brain. The flexible interaction within and between networks for different cognitive functions is made possible by a high degree of neural plasticity in our brain. Neuroplasticity thus forms the basis for lifelong learning and successful adaptation to various requirements.

The aim of our research is to identify central mechanisms of this adaptive plasticity in neural networks for cognitive functions over the adult life span. We are interested in neuroplasticity as a mechanism for learning new cognitive skills, as an adaptation to cognitive challenges and as a compensation strategy against the age-related decline in cognitive abilities, as well as a compensation strategy after brain lesions - for example after a stroke. We combine non-invasive brain stimulation (TMS, tDCS, tACS) with imaging methods and EEG. A core hypothesis is that neural networks for cognitive functions can flexibly adapt the contribution of different regions, which enables compensation for disturbances. For example, after a focal disturbance in the language network, other regions within the same network or neighboring networks can be recruited in order to maintain the language. A better understanding of these processes should help in the future to promote neuroplasticity and support the recovery of cognitive functions after brain lesions.


Master theses and internships

We regularly award master's theses and internships. If you are interested, please contact PD Dr. Gesa Hartwigsen.

Selected references

Fiori, V .; Kunz, L .; Kuhnke, P .; Marangolo, P .; Hartwigsen, G .: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) facilitates verb learning by altering effective connectivity in the healthy brain. NeuroImage 181, pp. 550 - 559 (2018)
Hartwigsen, G .: Flexible redistribution in cognitive networks. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 22 (8), pp. 687 - 698 (2018)
Hartwigsen, G .; Bzdok, D .; Klein, M .; Wawrzyniak, M .; Stockert, A .; Wrede, K .; Classen, J .; Saur, D .: Rapid short-term reorganization in the language network. eLife 6, e25964 (2017)
Hartwigsen, G .; Weigel, A .; Schuschan, P .; Siebner, H. R .; Weise, D .; Classen, J .; Saur, D .: Dissociating parieto-frontal networks for phonological and semantic word decisions: A condition-and-perturb TMS study. Cerebral Cortex 26 (6), pp. 2590 - 2601 (2016)
Hartwigsen, G .; Saur, D .; Price, C. J .; Ulmer, S .; Baumgaertner, A .; Siebner, H. R .: Perturbation of the left inferior frontal gyrus triggers adaptive plasticity in the right homologous area during speech production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (41), pp. 16402 - 16407 (2013)