4 PhD positions in Cognitive Neuroscience are available at SISSA (Trieste)

4 PhD positions in Cognitive Neuroscience are available at SISSA (Trieste).

The PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at SISSA (our website here) aims at providing students with the fundamental knowledge and skills for conducting cutting-edge research in the field, covering topics as diverse as perception, language, memory, action, temporal cognition and social behaviour. Some of our research is also translational in nature (e.g., cognitive neuropsychology), thus offering opportunity for a career outside academia.

The School is strongly research oriented. Our faculty dedicate most of their time to research, thus offering exceptional tutorship. This substantial investment in research is reflected in our ability to attract highly competitive funding (there are five on-going ERC grants in the group, several Human Frontier projects, and so on); develop strong research ties, both locally (e.g., the Healthcare system of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, the Unione Italiana Ciechi, the University of Trieste) and internationally (e.g., NTNU, Harvard, Oxford); and publish inleading journals such as Current Biology, PNAS, Science and Nature.

The program has a strongly interdisciplinary approach: our research themes and expertise are suitable for students with backgrounds in computer science, math, medicine, experimental psychology, theoretical physics, biology and linguistics, as well as neuroscience proper, obviously. The official language at SISSA is English, so speaking Italian is NOT a requirement.

The workload is mostly focused on conducting a research project under the supervision of our faculty, and in collaboration with fellow students, post-docs and possibly external professionals, such as neurologists, biologists or rehabilitation experts. For first-year students, the School also offers courses on the foundations of cognitive neuroscience, both theoretical and methodological.

In addition to this frontal and hands-on learning, the School provides its students with a vibrant research environment, further fostering their growth.

The program duration is three years, but one-year extensions are typical (covered by a School stipend). It is also possible to spend some time during the PhD at another research institution, if this is required for the successful completion of the project.

To apply for the April session, click here 

Does temporal binding involve a slow-down of the pacemaker?

Temporal binding is a phenomenon whereby the interval between an action and its outcome appears subjectively shorter that it really is. Much of the research into temporal binding has focused on whether the initial action must be self-generated, or whether any event perceived as “causal” or “intentional” is sufficient to compress the interval between the action and its corresponding effect. Temporal binding has clear relevance to timing and time perception. For example, self-initiated intervals are perceived as shorter than non-self-initiated intervals, for both duration judgment and duration reproduction. Despite this, temporal binding has most frequently been used as a measure of agency, with a larger effect (shorter perceived durations) being taken as a proxy for having higher perceived agency.

However, at least one study has explicitly associated temporal binding with the speed of a hypothetical biological pacemaker. Wenke and Haggard (2009), used an elegant paradigm to demonstrate that the speed of the pacemaker was affected by (or even underlies) temporal binding. Firstly, they used a standard temporal binding paradigm in which participants either actively pressed a button which resulted in a delayed tone, or “passively” had their finger forced to depress the button, also leading to a tone. In agreement with the canonical temporal binding phenomenon, the intervals in the active condition were perceived as significantly shorter than those in the passive condition. The critical innovation of the experiment was to nest a sensory discrimination procedure in the interval between the action and the tone. This involved sequential cutaneous shocks delivered a short time apart, and calibrated to participants’ individual discrimination thresholds.

The researchers found that participants’ ability to discriminate the two shocks was significantly impaired early in the interval (in the active condition), demonstrating that their temporal sensitivity was lower when temporal binding occurred. The implication is that as the rate of perceptual sampling was slower, any universal pacemaker driving this sampling was also slower. However, it’s an open question whether differences in time perception are actually associated with differences in the rate of perceptual sampling. Some researchers argue that duration distortions are a result of retrospective memory processes, while others have shown that information processing is enhanced when time is dilated. Overall, the results of this study appear to support the idea that pacemaker slowing could occur during temporal binding.

However, a new paper by Fereday and Beuhner has countered the claim that pacemaker rate is altered in temporal binding. In their experimental design, they simply nested an additional stimulus within the action/outcome interval and queried participants for an estimate of the duration of that stimulus. Over a range of stimulus types and modalities, they showed that the perceived durations of these nested stimuli were unaffected, despite recreating the classic temporal binding effect. This strongly suggests two alternative possibilities. Firstly, temporal binding may be a result of retrospective, post-hoc recalibration of the interval between the action and outcome, which does not affect interceding events. Secondly, the timing of different stimuli may be governed by their own, dedicated and independent pacemakers.

(An interesting extension to this study would to observe whether temporal binding can occur during temporal binding, by nesting an action/outcome interval within an action/outcome interval!)
(An interesting extension to this study would to observe whether temporal binding can occur during temporal binding, by nesting an action/outcome interval within an action/outcome interval. What about three nested action/outcome intervals? Presumably this mirrors the complex perception of causality in the real world: temporal binding all the way down!)

Time perception is integral to our notion of causality (and by extension, learning and inference). Our perception of causality appears to also impact our experience of time: causally related events are estimated as being closer in time, even on the scale of month or years. Why should this be the case? If our perception of time is purely a function of the perceived causality in the world, what implications does this have? Given that research into temporal binding brings us closer to understanding of the perception of both causality and time, as well as the bidirectional relationship between the two, this research agenda holds considerable value for the understanding of the fundamentals of cognition.


Source paper:

Fereday, R., & Buehner, M. J. (2017). Temporal Binding and Internal Clocks: No Evidence for General Pacemaker Slowing. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance. http://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0000370

Post-doc position: Short-term temporal memory in idiopathic Parkinson’s disease: A behavioural and electrophysiological approach.

Post-doc position: Short-term temporal memory in idiopathic Parkinson’s disease: a behavioural and electrophysiological approach.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is characterized by both motor and non-motor symptoms. Impairment of cognitive functions like memory, attention and time ‘perception’ has important but often underestimated consequences in the everyday life of patients. The candidate will investigate the influence of short-term temporal memory on the preparation of eye movements in idiopathic PD patients. This research should lead to the proposal of a simple and reliable oculomotor assessment of short-term temporal memory in idiopathic PD patients that could be used to estimate cognitive decline and evaluate treatments. Furthermore, analysis of EEG data (in the temporal and frequency domains) together with eye movements should lead to the formulation of quantitative hypotheses about the underlying neural processes. Analyses will be performed in patients at different stages of progression of the disease and with different anti-parkinsonian treatments.

Significance of research

Cognitive decline has a major impact in PD patients and in the aging population in general with a significant cost for families and the society. Most of the time, cognitive decline is evaluated using questionnaires and psychological testing. These methods rely on introspection, require good language skills and are often approximate. We suggest that an oculomotor approach based on implicit methods could yield significantly better estimates of early cognitive decline, at a reasonable cost, and help better understand underlying neural dysfunctions.

Funding

Support by private donators through the Louvain Foundation is available to fund the post-doctoral research during a period of 2 years. Approximate stipend: 2000 euros/month after taxation (this estimate could vary according to family situation, age and education). Health insurance provided. Funding will be re-evaluated every year according to achievements.

Various

Location: Institute of Neurosciences (IONS), Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium. Financial support for commuting between the private domicile and the University will be provided. All equipment currently available in the Lab to perform the project (https://www.uclouvain.be/en-425366.html#Team). EEG analysis will be realized in collaboration with Prof. A. Mouraux (same institute). Patients will be selected from the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc (on the same campus) in collaboration with Dr. Anne Jeanjean. Age and sex-matched controls should be recruited amongst the people accompanying patients or locally. The candidate is expected to start working in April 2017, with some flexibility.

Requirements:

  • PhD in Sciences, Biomedical Sciences, Applied Sciences, Psychology, or equivalent.
  • Excellent academic grades.
  • Training in systems, cognitive neurosciences or equivalent.
  • Training in statistics (ANOVA). Knowledge of SPSS will be appreciated.
  • A very good command of English.
  • Training in MATLAB.
  • Support letters are welcome.
  • Team spirit.

Please communicate with:
Professor Marcus Missal (marcus.missal@uclouvain.be)
Institute of Neuroscience (IONS)
Cognition and Systems (COSY)
Avenue Mounier 53 bte B1.53.04 1200 Brussels

Causal evidence for the right TPJ in temporal attention

Attention involves selecting a subset of the environment to undergo more elaborate processing in the brain. To respond appropriately to events in the world one must not only orient attention in space, but also in time. As it turns out, the brain regions most clearly implicated in spatial attention – the parietal lobes – are also thought to be involved in temporal attention, particularly ventral parietal regions such as the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ).

 

A recent study reported in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience provides further causal evidence in support of the view that the right TPJ in particular is dominant for temporal processing. The study utilized a novel simultaneity judgement task in two experiments that involved patients with lesions to the TPJ and healthy participants that had inhibitory TMS delivered to the TPJ. Participants were presented 4 flashing discs for 3 seconds (alternating uniform black and white) that were presented in the corners of an invisible square. On each trial, one disc was randomly selected to flash in counter phase to the other 3 discs (i.e., oddball disk was white when other disks were black). Prior to target onset, either the left or the right pair of disks was cued and participants were asked to judge whether cued pair flashed synchronously.

 

A staircase procedure showed that healthy controls and patients with damage to left TPJ could perform the simultaneity judgement at 80% accuracy when the flash rate for the array of items was approximately 9 Hz. In contrast, average flash thresholds for right TPJ patients were markedly worse, with 80% threshold observed when the flash rate was approximately 4 Hz.

 

The follow up experiment involving Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) with healthy controls showed a similar pattern of results. In this experiment, inhibitory 1Hz TMS was applied for 20 minutes either to the left TPJ, the right TPJ or over early visual cortex. Simultaneity thresholds after TMS were worse (compared to pre-stimulation thresholds) only when the right TPJ was inhibited. Thresholds did not vary from baseline after inhibition of left TPJ, and inhibition of early visual cortex showed a slight improvement in flash thresholds.

 

By combining lesion and TMS methods, the results of the study provide convincing causal evidence that the TPJ is involved in temporal attention. Brain-imaging studies have previously reported TPJ activation during simultaneity tasks, however imaging studies are correlational and cannot say anything about the causal role of the TPJ in these processes. Indeed, the inclusion of TMS is important since many of the patients that participated in the study had very large lesions, whereas the effect of TMS is comparatively more focal.

 

However, the evidence that the right TPJ is dominant for temporal attention is somewhat ambiguous. It is difficult to tell from the data presented in the paper whether the extent of the brain damage observed in the left and right TPJ patients was the same. Moreover, the results of the TMS experiment did not provide strong evidence for the dominance of right TPJ for temporal processing. Although the right TPJ impaired temporal processing (compared to baseline), the magnitude of the impairment was not significantly different from the impairment observed in the left TPJ (however there was a trend toward significance). Strictly speaking then, the results of the TMS study do not provide firm support for the claim of selectivity. Nevertheless, the present paper adds to a growing number of studies examining the neural correlates of time perception using techniques that infer causality (TMS, TDCS etc) in a field that is largely dominated by brain imaging techniques.

 

Bronson Harry

The MARCS Institute, Western Sydney University

Twitter | ResearchGate | Web

March 2017 Newsletter of the Timing Research Forum

Dear all,
We are pleased to share the March 2017 Newsletter of the Timing Research Forum.

I. TRF Membership
We have now surpassed 500 members! We thank our members for their
support and welcome the new members to our community.

Website:                507 members (+11.7%)

ResearchGate:      205 followers (+33.2%)

Twitter:                   206 followers (+15.7%)

Facebook:             215 followers (+18.8%)
=====

II. 1st Conference of the Timing Research Forum (TRF1)
We are pleased to share details of the 1st Conference of TRF and
announce the call for symposia and abstracts as below.

Website:  http://trf-strasbourg.sciencesconf.org

Program: https://trf-strasbourg.sciencesconf.org/program

Registration: https://trf-strasbourg.sciencesconf.org/resource/page/id/9

Submissions: https://trf-strasbourg.sciencesconf.org/resource/page/id/16

Date:           October 23-25, 2017
Venue:        University of Strasbourg, 22 Rue Descartes, Strasbourg, France
Conference Chairs:  Anne Giersch & Jenny Coull
Scientific committee:    TRF committee & conference organizers
Contact:  Anne Giersch – trf.strasbourg@orange.fr
=====

Keynote speakers

Warren Meck, Duke University

Lera Boroditsky, UC San Diego

Sofia Soares, Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown

(Sofia will present her paper – Midbrain dopamine neurons control
judgment of time –
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6317/1273, that was selected
by the TRF Committee as the ‘Best Timing Paper of 2016’).
=====

Call for Symposia (deadline: May 1, 2017)

8 Symposia will be selected from submitted proposals. Each symposium
must be focused on a single topic and will include 3 oral
presentations of 20 minutes (+ 5 minutes questions) organized by a
chairperson, who can also be a presenter. There can be 4 oral
presentations if preferred, but the total duration of the symposium
should not exceed 1 hour and 15 minutes.  The chairperson is
responsible for submitting the symposium proposal and for recruiting
speakers.  Symposia on current topics and of a multidisciplinary
nature are encouraged.

Symposium proposals should include the following:
1. The name, contact information, and affiliation of the symposium chairperson.
2. Title
3. A brief abstract describing the symposium’s objective and topics to
be covered (maximum 500 words, references included).
4. Up to 5 keywords.
5.  The title of each presentation, with a list of proposed speakers,
their affiliations and contact information. For multi-author papers,
please underline the presenter.
6. A short abstract for each presentation (max 150 words with references)
7. Abbreviations must be spelled out in full at their first use. Do
not use abbreviations in the title. Use only standard abbreviations.

If your symposium proposal is not accepted, the abstracts will be
automatically re-considered for poster or oral presentation.
=====

Call for Abstracts for Talks & Posters (deadline: May 1, 2017)

There will be two short oral sessions, each containing 6 presentations
of 12 minutes (+ 3 minutes for questions).
There will be two poster sessions, and around 15 posters will be
selected for oral blitz presentation (5 minutes).

Abstracts for poster and oral presentations should include the following:
1. A title that clearly defines the work addressed.
2. Name and affiliation of the authors.  For multi-author papers,
please underline the presenter and provide their contact information.
3.  An abstract describing the specific goal of the study, the methods
used, a summary of the results, and a conclusion.  The abstract should
not exceed 300 words (references included).
4. Up to 5 keywords.
5. Abbreviations must be spelled out in full at their first use. Do
not use abbreviations in the title. Use only standard abbreviations.
6. Do not add formatting. Italic, bold, tabs or extra spaces will not
appear in the final program.
7. Your preference of oral or poster presentation.
8. Specify whether you apply for a student travel grant (see below).

All selected abstracts and symposium proposals will be published in a
special issue of the Timing and Time Perception Reviews journal.
Abstract submission and registration will be coordinated via the
conference website. For any queries, please contact Anne Giersch at –
trf.strasbourg@orange.fr.
=====

III. TRF Blogs

We have a number of new blog articles reviewing recent papers on
timing by a number of promising early career researchers. Please read,
share, comment and discuss! If you’d also like to contribute as a
blogger, please get in touch: trf@timingforum.org.

Bronson Harry, MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney:
1. Iterated reproduction task reveals rhythmic priors associated with
exposure to music –
http://timingforum.org/iterated-reproduction-task-reveals-rhythmic-priors-associated-with-exposure-to-music/

Mukesh Makwana, Centre of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences,
University of Allahabad:
1. Controlling Time Perception using Optogenetics –
http://timingforum.org/controlling-time-perception-using-optogenetics/
2. Meditation, Sense of Agency and Time Perception –
http://timingforum.org/meditation-sense-of-agency-and-time-perception/
3. Image Contrast influence Perceived Duration –
http://timingforum.org/image-contrast-influence-perceived-duration/

Molly Henry, University of Western Ontario:
1. The phase of pre-stimulus alpha oscillations influences the visual
perception of stimulus timing –
http://timingforum.org/the-phase-of-pre-stimulus-alpha-oscillations-influences-the-visual-perception-of-stimulus-timing/
2. Entrainment to an auditory signal: Is attention involved –
http://timingforum.org/entrainment-to-an-auditory-signal-is-attention-involved/

Ryszard Auksztulewicz, Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity:
1. Temporal predictability modulates putative midbrain activity:
evidence from human EEG –
http://timingforum.org/temporal-predictability-modulates-putative-midbrain-activity-evidence-from-human-eeg/
2. The benefits and costs of temporal attention –
http://timingforum.org/the-benefits-and-costs-of-temporal-attention/
3. Neural encoding of time: the striatum vs prefrontal cortex –
http://timingforum.org/neural-encoding-of-time-the-striatum-vs-prefrontal-cortex/

Bowen Fung, University of Melbourne:
1. Time perception and the heart
http://timingforum.org/time-perception-and-the-heart/
=====

IV. Blog your paper

We would like to invite TRF members to submit short summaries of their
recently published articles on timing. Articles should be no longer
than 500 words and not include more than one representative figure.

Please submit your entries after your paper is published by emailing
us at trf@timingforum.org. Submissions are open anytime and will be
featured on the TRF blog page – http://timingforum.org/category/blog/.
=====

V. Blog your conference

We would like to invite TRF members to write about their experience of
a timing conference/meeting/workshop that they have recently attended.
Submissions can highlight prominent talks/papers presented, new
methods, trends and your personal views about the conference. Pictures
may also be included. Submissions should be no longer than 1000 words.

Please submit your entries to trf@timingforum.org within two months
from the date of the conference.
=====

VI. Timing Meetings in 2017

Neurosciences and Music VI: Music, Sound and Health
June 15-18; Boston, USA

Rhythm Perception and Production Workshop
July 3-5; Birmingham, UK

European Society for Cognitive Science of Music
July 31 – Aug. 4; Ghent, Belgium

1st Conference of the Timing Research Forum
October 23 – 25; Strasbourg, France

For further details on these timing meetings, please visit –
http://timingforum.org/timing-meetings/.

If you are organizing or aware of any other meetings focused on
timing, please let us know at trf@timingforum.org.
=====

VII. Contributions

TRF aims to host timing related resources, so that TRF’s website will
be the one stop for everything related to timing. Currently, the TRF
website has these resources: all members’ publications, timing related
special issues, and books on timing, a list of meetings focused on
timing, a list of timing related societies/groups, as well as code and
mentoring resources.

We ask all of you to contribute to these resources. Please send us
(email at trf@timingforum.org) any omissions that we might have or any
new information that should be added.

TRF is based on the idea of sharing information freely between its’
members so as to advance timing research and group collaborations.
Thus, we encourage all of you to share with us any of the above
resources that you might have and/or suggest new resources that we
should add and circulate within the community.
=====

VIII. Suggestions

We thank all of you for supporting this community and hope that you
will continue to do so in the future. As we continuously emphasize,
TRF is meant to be open to all timing researchers with the aim of
sharing ideas and advancing the current state of the art. Thus, we are
open to any suggestions or ideas that will help TRF grow and advance.

We have already established many ways (website, mailing list,
resources etc.) to discuss the current state and the future of TRF and
these tools will become more active in the coming months. We look
forward to your feedback!

With best wishes,

Sundeep Teki, University of Oxford, sundeepteki.org

&

Argiro Vatakis, Cognitive Systems Research Institute, argirovatakis.com

Entrainment to an auditory signal: Is attention involved?

Behaviorally relevant environmental stimuli are often characterized by some degree of temporal regularity. Dynamic attending theory provides a framework for explaining how perception of stimulus events is affected by the temporal context within which they occur. At its core, dynamic attending theory (as the name suggests) is a theory about attention – the key insight of dynamic attending theory is that attention is not constant over time, but waxes and wanes with time’s passing, and can become coupled to the temporal structure of environmental stimuli. A wealth of empirical data supports this basic proposition, demonstrating that the detection and discrimination of, as well as response times to, target stimulus events differ based on how the target event was related to its temporal context. For example, the timing or pitch of an event is judged more accurately when that event happens “on time” with respect to a context rhythm, compared to when that same event happens at an unexpected time.

Extrapolating these psychophysical data, a new paper by Kunert and Jongman tests whether effects of temporal context might be observed for memory.

Very briefly, the paradigm involved listening to an 8-tone sequence, where one tone is higher than the others. Dutch pseudowords are presented at different phases of the 8-tone sequence (either at tone 4 or tone 8), and participants either give a speeded lexical decision (Exp. 1a), are asked to recall the words for a later recall test (Exp. 2a), or both (Exp. 2b). Although participants’ lexical decisions were significantly faster for tone-8 words than for tone-4 words, memory for words presented at those positions was not different.

There are a number of confusing aspects of this manuscript, but I’d like to focus on one. The authors ask the following:

“How does the brain react to rhythmic auditory input? Does it increase general attention at moments of rhythmic salience as predicted by the most-widely adopted interpretation of dynamic attending theory (DAT)?”;

…and they suggest that their results “raise[s] the question of what the “attentional energy” postulated by the DAT actually represents in terms of neurophysiology and/or psychology”.

The reason this is confusing to me is that there’s a growing neuropsychological literature on entrainment and its effects on perception. And a number of authors, including Mari Jones and Ed Large, for example, have proposed that neural oscillations are the correlates of “attentional energy” (see here for a shameless self promotion of my own views on the matter). If this is true, this means that fluctuations in “attentional energy” are fluctuations in neuronal excitability. What this means, I think, is easiest to understand from the perspective of a single neuron, who is more likely to fire during a period of high excitability and less likely to fire during a period of low excitability. When fluctuations in neuronal excitability become entrained by a stimulus rhythm, high excitability periods align with future events, improving neuronal responsiveness and perception of that event (or decreasing responsiveness between events as the case may be).

It seems to me that what the authors are then getting at is a question of how widely neural oscillations might be entrained by a modality-specific rhythm. That is, will an auditory rhythm entrain oscillations in brain regions responsible for pseudoword encoding? And this question has certainly not been definitively answered. There is evidence that neural oscillations in sensory cortices are entrained by rhythms presented in their favored  and sometimes nonfavored modality (audition, vision, somatosensation), and there is evidence that auditory rhythms can entrain specific populations of tonotopically tuned cells. So I think we have some idea about how specific entrainment can be, but it seems like we know less well how general entrainment can be. Do auditory rhythms entrain neural oscillations in motor regions, as many of us interested in rhythm and beat perception believe? What about brain regions responsible for memory encoding? It’s really the answer to this question that determines whether entrainment effects on memory are going to be observable, and paradigms designed to answer this question may be more informative when they are developed in the context of what we know about the brain. For example, entrainment of neural oscillations in relevant brain regions in the right relationship by noninvasive brain stimulation does improve memory encoding – it’s a relevant question why we would expect an auditory rhythm to do the same.

– source article: Kunert & Jongman. Entrainment to an auditory signal: Is attention involved? JEP: General.