Action and Neurocognition Group

Our brains consist of about 100 billion (1011) brain cells, called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other by means of tiny electrical signals, and consume oxygen for this process. These activities can be measured outside our brains. In our group, we make use of several complementary methods to measure neural activity accompanying cognition.

We use fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to investigate which regions in the brain are activated during particular tasks. The scanner consists of a strong magnet that allows us to make an anatomical picture of the brain (MRI), but also to detect changes in energy-usage in the brain (fMRI). When participants perform a task while lying inside the MRI scanner, we can see with high precision which parts of the brain are involved in that task.

Using EEG we can explore both the changes in event-related potentials (ERP) that occur after a particular event in the environment as well as observe the oscillatory dynamics that coincide with processing the same event. With EEG we can get very precise timing information about the processes occurring in the brain at a given moment.

With MEG (magnetoencephalography), we can record the magnetic fields that are generated by the electrical signals in the brain. MEG allows us to record brain activity on a millisecond timescale and it also gives us a good estimation of where in the brain the recorded activities originate from. As with EEG, we can look at event-related changes in the magnetic fields (ERFs) and at oscillatory dynamics.

We use TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) as a noninvasive method to stimulate small regions of the brain via electromagnetic induction. The current running through the TMS coil generates a perpendicular magnitude field, which can either facilitate or inhibit neuronal firing at the targeted brain region. TMS provides us with a unique way to investigate the causal role of a particular brain area for a specific cognitive process.

Through the use of an SMI RED500 eye-tracking system we can analyse the processing of visual information. This device gives us the coordinates of both eyes in an x-y plane 500 times a second. It shows, for example, whether participants make predictive eye movements (i.e. they focus on a certain location before a stimulus appears), how long they look at an unexpected stimulus and whether a stimulus causes a change in the size of the pupil.

We also use scientific modeling, which is an activity that is fundamental in "getting a grip on" the phenomena we are interested in. The aim of making a model is to identify, conceptualize, and/or formalize particular aspects of the phenomena; in order to better understand the phenomenon, propose a theoretical explanation for it, explore the width and richness of the phenomenon, and help design new experiments.

We also conduct research in the Baby Research Center Nijmegen in collaboration with the Baby BRAIN Group of Dr. Sabine Hunnius. Here we investigate the cognitive development of infants and children by using additional methods such as fNIRS or Qualisys.