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Complex human learning

Bernstein Focus: Neuronal Basis of Learning (BFNL)

"Using computational models to understand mechanisms underlying complex human learning and its genetic basis across the life span"

Prime goal of this Bernstein Focus consortium is to advance our understanding of complex human decision and learning processes across the life-span. We will expose adult subjects of different age to complex decision-making tasks. Two sets of experimental paradigms will allow us to study the impact of factual and fictive prediction errors, regret, volatility of returns, risk, and temporal discounting on decision making and learning. Learning and decision making in humans will then be characterized with respect to their computational mechanisms, their neural correlates, their genetic susceptibility, their computational mechanisms, and their neuropharmacology through a combination of behavioral, imaging, and genetic studies, to be performed on a well characterized common pool of subjects.

Data will then be analyzed and interpreted using neurocomputational models which are based on Markov Decision Processes and Reinforcement Learning. This will allow us to quantify and interpret individual differences in learning and decision making between subjects, as well as across age, for different genetic determinants, and during pharmacological interventions.

We expect that the results will open the door for new pharmacological and behavioral interventions – especially for the elderly.

This interdisciplinary consortium covers all relevant methods including fMRI, the combination of MR spectroscopy and PET, as well as genetic analyses and computational modeling and machine learning techniques.


The BFNL 'Complex human learning' is a cooperation of scientists at the following research institutions:

  • University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf
  • Technische Universität Berlin
  • Max Planck Institute for Human Development Berlin
  • Charité University Medicine Berlin
  • Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt Berlin