Master thesis

Cognitive Psychology

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Master thesis

MCP1 - Effectiveness of visualizations of vehicle trajectory in car door side-panels in alleviating motion sickness

Project description

In 2015, Daimler developed a prototype of an autonomous driving vehicle "F015 Luxury in motion" with LCD panels in the doors. These panels displayed a virtual scene which showed movements consistent with the actual vehicle’s trajectory. The movement in the virtual scene provides the passenger with optic-flow information which is assumed to reduce motion sickness.

In this project, we want to explore if this trick really works, and if so, which perceptual and cognitive mechanisms are involved –and how we can optimize it. We want to set up an experiment to find answers to the research questions, and report the findings in the form of a scientific publication. This involves the development of a driving simulation scenario using our motion simulator facilities (MATLAB/Simulink); development of a virtual environment (Unity); the design and conducting of an experiment; a thorough data-analysis (R/MATLAB); and of course the writing of a scientific report(Office/LaTeX).

If you are intrigued by this project, and you have at least some experience with the above softwares and/or programming in general; you are comfortable working with participants and performing statistical data analyses, and most of all, you would like to complete your thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, then you are more than welcome to contact us!

Contact information

Dr. Paolo Pretto: - Phone: +49 7071 601 -644, Fax: -616 Dr. Ksander de Winkel: - Phone: +49 7071 601 -643, Fax: -616

Project leaders Motion Perception and Simulation group Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics Dept. Human Perception, Cognition and Action.

MCP2 - Internal and external spatial attentional examined with lateralized EEG power

Supervisor: Dr. Rob van der Lubbe

Several authors argued that retrieval of an item from visual short term memory (internal spatial attention) and focusing attention on an externally presented item (external spatial attention) are similar. In a recent EEG study (Van der Lubbe et al., 2014) we presented four-stimulus arrays and observed increased power in the alpha and theta bands at ipsilateral sites above occipital cortex with precues and with postcues appearing 3,000 ms after array offset. These findings indeed support the idea of a common underlying mechanism. Nevertheless, this support may crucially depend on the time interval between the stimulus array and the postcue. In the planned research project we want to examine whether participants shift to a more abstract non-spatial type of representation in the case of longer time intervals. Thus, goal of the project is to determine the boundary conditions for overlapping mechanisms by systematically varying the array-postcue time interval.

MCP3 - Master assignment: TMS at Ifado, Dortmund

Supervisor: Willem B. Verwey

In collaboration with prof. Michael Nitsche at Ifado (, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS, studies will be carried out while participants are executing a motor sequencing task. Earlier studies suggest that the supplementary motor area (SMA) is heavily involved in learning and producing motor sequences. We previously tested this in two studies with TMS at the preSMA and the SMAproper (Ruitenberg et al., 2014, Verwey et al., 2002), and found different effects, suggesting different functional roles for preSMA and SMAproper. However, these studies were somewhat different and carried out in different laboratories. In this master assignment, we intend to re-examine the different roles of the preSMA and the SMAproper in a single study, possibly including 1 or  experiments.

Ruitenberg, M. F. L., Verwey, W. B., Schutter, D. J. L. G., & Abrahamse, E. L. (2014). Cognitive and neural foundations of discrete sequence skill: A TMS study. Neuropsychologia, 56, 229-238.
Verwey, W. B., Lammens, R., & van Honk, J. (2002). On the role of the SMA in the discrete sequence production task: a TMS study. Neuropsychologia, 40(8), 1268-1276.

MCP4 - Motion perception in airplanes

Max-Planck-Institut für biologische Kybernetik
ax Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

Student project:
Motion perception in airplanes

Accurate perception of aircraft orientation is crucial for aircraft control. In most aircrafts the pilot is seated in front of the center of rotation, so, any rotation of the aircraft in the pitch plane (i.e., nose up) is also accompanied by a vertical motion (Fig. 1). The further away from the center, the larger the vertical motion. In this project we investigate whether this additional vertical motion affects the perception of orientation. In other words: does the vertical component help or hamper the perception of aircraft orientation? And is prior knowledge about the aircraft kinematics required?

Fig 1: The further away from the center of rotation, the more vertical displacement occurs during a nose up movement

Fig 2: The MPI CyberMotion Simulator

To answer these questions, we will perform an experiment in the MPI CyberMotionSimulator (Fig 2), where we expose participants to various combinations of rotation (i.e., pitch) and translation (i.e., heave). We use psychophysical methods to measure the perceived motion, which means that in every trial two motions are compared and the participant has to judge which one was more “nose-up”. This will tell us whether the vertical motion improves or deteriorates the perception of aircraft orientation.

Are you interested in motion perception and psychophysics, and do you want to perform an experiment on human participants using a motion simulator? Then this project might be suitable for you. Programming experience with Matlab/Simulink is advantageous.

Dr. Suzanne Nooij
Motion perception and Simulation research group
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tuebingen, Germany

MCP5 - Neural correlates of visually induced self‐motion (vection)

Student project:
Neural correlates of visually induced self‐motion (vection)

Vection refers to a visually induced sense of self-motion in a stationary observer, elicited by motion of the visual surround. The train illusion is a very well-known example of vection: seeing the train at the neighboring platform leave the station, gives the feeling that your own train is leaving. This visual motion illusion is exploited in many motion simulations and virtual reality applications.

Traditionally, the occurrence of vection is indicated using subjective ratings. In this project we want to investigate neural correlates of vection, which can be used as an objective measure for vection. For this we use Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), a brain imaging technique that visualizes the blood flow in the surface of the brain. We will perform an experiment in the MPI Panolab, where we can induce a compelling illusion of self-motion, and measure the NIRS response under various experimental conditions.

If you are interested in brain imaging, keen to search for patterns in the recorded data, and would like to do an experiment involving human participants, please write to Dr. Suzanne Nooij of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. Programming experience with Matlab / Simulink is advantageous.

Dr. Suzanne Nooij
Motion perception and Simulation research group
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tuebingen, GermanyEmail:

MCP6 - Optimizing EEG source modeling procedures of cortical hand-motor areas; 35 EC

supervisor: dr. rob van der lubbe

Topographical maps of the primary motor cortex commonly reveal that representations related to the hand motor areas are located approximately halfway the contralateral precentral gyrus. Importantly, this cortical representation may be quite different for patients with cerebral palsy, as different patterns of cortical reorganization have been observed, being either contralateral, ipsilateral or even bilateral. These different types of reorganization have important implications for the development of appropriate training programs, therefore a proper assessment of the type of reorganization seems quite relevant. In a previous study, we attempted to determine the type of cortical reorganization on an individual basis by performing source analyses with the electroencephalogram but results of these analyses were somewhat equivocal. Goal of the project is to improve the previously employed procedures. First, determination of spectral characteristics of hand-motor related activity with wavelet analyses may improve the signal to noise ratio. Secondly, small paradigmatic variations (location vs. symbolic cues) might also improve localization results. Finally, results of different source localization methods may be directly compared, like BESA and LORETA. Goal of the project is to apply the optimized analyzing procedures to a data set of adolescents with unilateral cerebral palsy.

MCP7 - Predictive coding and attentional orienting; 35 EC

Supervisor: Dr. Rob van der Lubbe

Recent studies indicate that the human brain relies on predictive processes to model complex perceptual events. In the case of a mismatch between a visual expected event and an incoming stimulus, a prediction error signal is thought to be produced, the so-called visual mismatch negativity (vMMN). Several studies demonstrate that irregularities are automatically detected by the visual system without the involvement of attention. Predictability of stimuli, however, might vary from a lower element-to-element level (HHHHHVHHHVHHHHV) to a more higher order pattern (HHVVHHVVHHVVVHHVVHHVVHHH), and might be differentially sensitive to attentional manipulations. Furthermore, higher-order patterns have the advantage that one can control for stimulus repetition/alternation effects. An experiment will be carried out in which an attended and an unattended stream of stimuli will be presented (vertical or horizontal bars) that have lower and higher-order regularities and lower and higher order mismatches. Goal of the study is to examine whether predictive coding has similar effects for these different types of mismatches, whether prediction effects can  be separated from repetition suppression effects, and to what extent these automatic effects are modulated by spatial attention.      

MCP8 - What do first memories tell us really? 35 EC

Supervisors: Dr. Rob van der Lubbe, Bernard Veldkamp (OMD); 35 EC

Results of studies on childhood memories tell us something on the way in which our memories develop through our lives (e.g., see Draaisma, 2001, 2010). Some studies suggest that emotional factors have a major influence on early consolidation, while other studies suggest that the onset of earliest memories strongly depends on the development of verbal skills. Analyses of written reports on first memories are often done by means of textual analyses by one or a few experts. This of course implies the possibility that bias of the expert has a strong influence on the final outcome. Employment of newly developed text mining strategies might be a better and more objective way to asses crucial features of first memories. These analyses may reveal whether these memories change as a function of various factors such as estimated age at the moment of the remembered event, or age at the moment of reporting the event. Goal of the project is to use these analyses on an already existing dataset of more  than 600 first memories of 1st year students, and also extend this dataset with first memories in other age groups.