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On June 1st the Amsterdam Brain and Cognition center organizes the ABC Brain Day, the yearly conference where ABC members present their research.

Detail Summary
Date 1 June 2015
Time 10:45 - 19:30

We call on our members to present posters. You can submit a poster presentation by sending an e-mail with your name and the title of your poster to We will have an ABC Poster Prize award, consisting of €500. DEADLINE for the poster submissions is May 30.


The ceremony of the Creative Mind Prize will also take place during the Brain Day and will be presented by comic and initiator Freek de Jonge. Another good reason to mark this special date in your agenda!


Program 1 st June 2015

10.45 - 11.15 Coffee and welcome by ABC board


11.15 - 11.30 'Detecting changes in human neurogenesis in vivo after exercise using MRS'.Paul Lucassen (FNWI) 

Preclinical studies have shown that exercise increases the number of newborn cells in the adult rodent hippocampus. This process of 'adult neurogenesis' has been implicated in cognition, but could so far not be detected in vivo. Together with other groups, we have recently developed and validated novel automated protocols for magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) that allow reliable detection of human neurogenesis in vivo. Using this innovative MRS approach, we will study, in an interdisciplinary setting, whether exercise can stimulate neurogenesis, for the first time in the live human brain, and whether this can indeed modify cognition.

11.30 - 11.45 'Brainstem modulation of cortical decision computations' by Jan Willem de Gee (PSY) 

 Decisions entail the slow accumulation of fluctuating evidence about the state of the world. This accumulation is thought to emerge from the reverberation of activity in networks of posterior parietal, prefrontal, and (pre)motor cortex. The evidence accumulation strongly depends on the internal brain state. But how brain states shape the dynamics of, and computations performed by, the cortical decision network remains poorly understood. We currently approach this issue by characterising the effects of modulatory brainstem systems, in particular the locus coeruleus (LC) norepinephrine (NE) system, on cortical network dynamics and evidence accumulation. I will present one recent line of experiments, which link decision-related pupil responses to transient responses in the human brainstem (assessed with high-resolution fMRI) and in cortical decision networks, as well as to the algorithmic level (assessed by fitting computational decision-models to behavior).

11.45 - 12.00 'Investigating economic choices: beyond value-based decision-making' by Maël Lebreton (FEB)

Decision theory assumes that when faced with a binary choice, individuals attribute complex values -aggregating e.g. reward and probabilities- to available options, compare those values and select the option with the highest. This value-based decision-making framework has led to fundamental discoveries in the structure of rational choices, the behavioral deviations from rationality, and the neural structure encoding values and subsuming choices. In this talk, I will quickly present some of the work I have done exploring the neurobiological bases of value-based decision making, and expose current theories and promises of the field of neuro-economics. Finally, I will sketch a project dedicated at exploring some limits of the value-based decision-making framework in economic choices, due to the emergence of heuristics.

12.00 - 12.15 'Domain-general cognitive mechanisms in language learning' by Pralle Kriengwatana (FGW)

Whether language is governed by specialized, domain-specific modules or by domain-general learning mechanisms is a topic that is both classical and current. I will present preliminary data from ongoing studies in infants and adults that aim to reveal the extent to which domain-general mechanisms are involved in word learning and phonetic discrimination and categorization. Specifically, these data will inform the following questions: (1) Are directional asymmetries in vowel perception unique to humans and do they play a role in language learning? (2) Are the processes involved in cross-situational word learning language-specific, and what memory systems are involved in remembering words learned cross-situationally?

12.15 - 12.30 'Effects of absorption on feelings of awe and spirituality' by Michiel van Elk (PSYI)

Absorption refers to the ability to become completely focused on one’s thoughts or sensations and is central to a wide range of different experiences, ranging from the perception of art, beauty and nature to feelings of spirituality and mysticism. In a series of studies the effects of absorption on feelings of awe and spirituality were investigated, using placebo brain stimulation and the induction of the feeling of ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’. These findings highlight the central importance of absorption for feelings of awe and spirituality, which in turn may be at the basis of supernatural and religious beliefs.


12.30 - 14.00 Food for Brain and Body: posters and lunch 


14.00 - 14.15 'Multi-voxel pattern analysis delineates neural correlates of interpretive bias in spider fear' by Renée Visser (PSY)

A core symptom of anxiety disorders is the tendency to interpret ambiguous information as threatening. Here, we used multi-voxel pattern analysis to assess how the brain (mis)interprets ambiguous information in spider fear. Individuals with low and high spider fear underwent functional MRI scanning while viewing series of schematic flowers morphing to spiders. Both behaviorally and at the level of the brain, individuals with high spider fear were more likely to classify ambiguous morphs as spiders than individuals with low spider fear. This effect was largest in visual association areas, suggesting that the misinterpretation of ambiguous stimuli is really a perceptual process.

14.15 - 14.30 'Metaphor, brain and cognition'  by Gerard Steen (FGW/ACLC)

Since 1980, metaphor has figured large on the agenda of cognitive-scientific researchers: instead of a decorative poetic or rhetorical figure of speech, it was reconceptualized as a fundamental figure of thought that people need to think about all kinds of abstract and complex and vaguely defined phenomena: we think of organizations as plants that can grow or be pruned, we think of ideas as food that can be swallowed and need to be digested, and we think of urgent research programs or policies as if they are wars (on cancer, on drugs). There is a phenomenal amount of research across a wide range of disciplines that looks at the relation between metaphor expressed in various ways (in language, in gesture, in visuals, etc.) on the one hand and associated conceptual structures and systems on the other. Much of this research has looked at cognitive processes in experimental psychological research, in psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and communication science. In the past decade, these cognitive findings have got applied in neuro-scientific research exploring relations between metaphor and the brain: for instance, when metaphors in utterances are processed by readers, do they activate both the original conceptual domains of the metaphor (grow, prune, swallow, digest, war) as well as their intended figurative targets (organizations, ideas, policies).


In this talk I will briefly present each of these aspects in order to suggest the importance of metaphor for the ABC program: if metaphors are the powerful and unconscious conceptual tools and framing devices they have been made out to be, then it should be possible to demonstrate that metaphorical cognition in fact proceeds from the original source to the intended target, presumably constraining people’s experience of the target in highly specific ways. In our group we argue that this story is too simple and needs refinement with reference to different types of metaphor and different types of metaphor use. This requires an extended model for metaphor which should also be developed and tested in brain and cognition research, as I will briefly suggest. 

14.30 - 14.45 'How to cook metacognition in a sauce of creativity' by Martijn Wokke (PSY)

As a recipient of the ABC talent grant I will discuss the two main themes of my ABC funded research. Firstly, I will talk about the projects concerning metacognition (knowledge about cognition and control of cognition). Decision-making is not always accompanied by full-blown consciousness. I will address how metacognition develops during decision-making and how metacognition relates to first order performance (accuracy).

The second part of the talk will be about how creativity is related to neural processes in the brain. Currently, we are investigating how creativity might suffer from activated prefrontal control processes and how creativity is related to the sharpness of the competitive balance between “task-active” and “mind wandering” networks.

14.45 - 15.00 ABC poster award


15.00 - 15.15 Tea Break


15.15 - 16.00 'What makes us musical animals' by Henkjan Honing

While it recently became quite popular to address the study of the origins of music from an evolutionary perspective, there is still little agreement on the idea that music is in fact an adaptation, that it influenced our survival, or that it made us sexually more attractive. Music appears to be of little use. So why argue that music is an adaptation? While it is virtually impossible to underpin the evolutionary role of musicality as a whole, the apparent innateness, and the cognitive and biological specificity of its hypothesised components allow Prof. Henkjan Honing (UvA) to outline what makes us musical animals.


16.00 - 16.20 Presentations Creatieve Geest Prijs nominees

16.20 - 16.35 Short break

16.35 - 17.00 Award ceremony CGP 2015 by Freek de Jonge

17.00 - 18.00 Drinks and bites

18.00 - 19.15 Special performance by Damiaan Denys

'De wolf en de Goudvis', only for ABC members (Dutch)