Neurobiology of decision-making

The scientists in this field of "neurobiology and decision-making in obesity" try to find out how unfavorable eating habits in overweight people are developing, and how these habits can be changed again.

Neurobilogie der Entscheidungsfindung - Gehirnforschung
(Graph: IFB Adiposity)

Obesity is mostly accompanied by disadvantageous decision-making behavior. This is especially true in the face of tempting rewarding options. Behaviour can even be paradoxical, in that actions are initiated that are seemingly incongruent with an individual’s explicit desires, e. g. if subjects are attempting to conform to a specific diet and fail repeatedly.

The goal of this junior research group is to understand the cognitive and neural basis of decision-making in obesity. Of particular interest to us are automatic responses, which are not under conscious control and are most probably the result of implicit learning processes. In this context, the role of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin will be elucidated. Based on the insights gained, the aim is to develop intervention regimens to positively influence decision-making behavior in obese subjects.

The interdisciplinary group, consisting of people with backgrounds in neurobiology, cognitive sciences, psychology, medical sciences and mathematics, uses state-of-the-art methods to address its scientific questions.

Scientific foci of the junior research group

  • Ultra-high resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 3 and 7 Tesla is used to explore brain activity even  in small subcortical structures.
  • Multivariate data analysis accounts for the joined influence of variance from different domains such as genetics, brain structure, personality traits, etc.
  • High-precision olfactometry and gustometry enables us to apply primary stimuli with high accuracy with respect to timing and quantity.
  • Eye-tracking is capable of unveiling unconscious automatic responses to stimuli.
  • Tailored behavioral paradigms are conceived to disentangle the various subprocesses of decision-making.
  • Concurrent PET/MRI offers us the unique possibility to investigate both functional brain activation and the layout of neurotransmitter systems in the same subjects at the same point in time.

Our previous work identified obesity-related alterations in the structure of brain areas central to processing of subjective value and reward, but also in structures mediating inhibition of inappropriate behaviour. In addition, obesity was associated with altered reward-dependent behaviour on different tasks that are all unrelated to food. Specifically, obese subjects seem to be less sensitive to information conveyed via negative feedback. Studies on genetic influences on brain and behaviour in obesity highlighted the importance of common genetic variation at various loci.

This group closely collaborates with other IFB junior research groups ("computer-based modelling" Jane Neumann, "stigmatization" Claudia Sikorski, "neuroendocrine mechanisms" Wiebke Fenske, "functional genetics" Yvonne Böttcher) and IFB professorships ("neuro-imaging" Prof. Swen Hesse, "genetics of obesity and diabetes" Prof. Peter Kovacs) as well as with several research groups at the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig  and at other universities. The JRG is part of the Leipzig O’Brain Project.


Graduate Students:
Martin Federbusch (cand. med., IFB MS Pro)
Marie-Theres Meemken (M. Sc. Neurocognitive Psychology)
Nora Mehl (M. Sc. Psychology, funded by MaxNetAging)
Filip Morys (M. Sc. Medical Neuroscience)
Maria Pössel (M. Sc. Psychology)

Coordination: Susan Prejawa

The junior research group's leader is Dr. Annette Horstmann

Dr. rer. nat. Annette Horstmann

Head of research group "Decision making in obesity"
Former member: student career board, internal review board
Head of project

+49 341 9940-2258

horstmann [at] cbs [dot] mpg [dot] de