Developmental Psychology lab
Our cognitive and emotional abilities change over the lifespan, alongside changes in our brain function and physical health, as well as changes in our socio-cultural environment. We are familiar with some of these cognitive changes as typical developmental changes. For example, we find it easier to consciously control our behavior as we grow up, we expect that our general knowledge increases as we get older, and we may have a harder time remembering things when we get older. Other cognitive changes are not typically to be expected and should ideally be changeable, such as the pronounced memory loss in the context of neurodegenerative diseases in dementia.
In the Department of Developmental Psychology, we try to understand why special cognitive opportunities and challenges are inherent to different ages across the lifespan and to what extent these are interrelated with changes in brain functions over the lifespan. A particular focus is on understanding the relevance of the development of large neuromodulatory systems in the brain that interact with cognitive functions such as attention, reinforcement learning or memory.
Our neuromodulatory systems are however not only important for a variety of cognitive and emotional functions, but are also among the brain structures that are affected earliest in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, which exhibit the first protein pathologies in the dopaminergic and noradrenergic neuromodulatory systems. So far it is unclear why neuromodulatory cell nuclei are particularly vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases and what role protein pathologies in neuromodulatory systems in the early stages of dementia play in the progression of the disease. In order to investigate these questions, we use imaging methods (magnetic resonance imaging, MRI) and cognitive tests, which should allow us to better understand these early cognitive and brain-physiological changes in dementia and to distinguish them from changes in typical ageing.
Prof. Dr. Dorothea Hämmerer
Prof. Hämmerer has studied Psychology at the University of Trier, University of Paris X Nanterre, and University of Freiburg before writing her Diploma thesis with Markus Ullsperger on the topic of EEG correlates during performance monitoring at the MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. Starting with her PhD at the MPI for Human Development in Berlin with Ulman Lindenberger and Shu-Chen Li, Prof. Hämmerer uses neurocognitive methods to understand the development of cognitive functions across the lifespan.
Prof. Hämmerer's post-doc studies took her to the Technical University of Dresden, the University College London (Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Welcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging) and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg. They have enabled her to expand her skills in magnetic resonance imaging and in the physiological and cognitive assessment of aging and dementia. The developmental psychology lab maintains close collaborative relationships with the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience in London and the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience and Dementia Research in Magdeburg.
Dorothea Hämmerer is co-founder of the Locus Coeruleus Imaging Meeting, which brings together clinicians, animal researchers, physicists and cognitive neuroscientists to try to better understand the role of the noradrenergic locus coeruleus in neurodegenerative diseases. Her research was recognized with the Brenda Milner Award and a Senior Research Fellowship from Alzheimer Research UK.