Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Four postdoctoral researchers receive Marie Curie grants for the same lab

Date of news: 29 March 2023

Predictive brain lab group

The Donders Institute has been awarded four grants from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fund. To make it even more special, four of these will all carry out their research in the same predictive brain lab, led by Floris de Lange. Even though he has previously hosted Marie Curie fellows in his lab, four at the same time is unique! The grants, part of Horizon Europe, are the European Union’s flagship funding programme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training of researchers.

Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowships targets researchers holding a PhD who wish to conduct their research activities abroad, acquire new skills and develop their careers. They are open to researchers moving within Europe or coming to Europe from another part of the world to pursue their research career. These grants are highly competitive, with a typical success rate of 10-15%. With this background knowledge in mind, de Lange was hopeful but also somewhat apprehensive when the grant results were about to be announced. De Lange: “A priori there is a strong chance of failure with such competitive grant schemes, so I was bracing myself for the worst. To get the actual best outcome I could have hoped for, was fantastic, and I am still extremely happy that all the efforts the researchers have put in have been rewarded.”

Research plans of the four awardees

The four PhDs receiving the grants are Lea-Maria Schmitt, Yamil Vidal, Eva Berlot and Judit Fazekas. The research of Eva Berlot will tackle the question of how complex, meaning-based expectations influence visual processing. Berlot: “We know that visual processing is shaped by expectations, but most of our current knowledge comes from studies using rather arbitrary associations between simple stimuli which do not reflect the richness of our everyday lives. In my research, I will use a more naturalistic paradigm, using picture books, combined with eye-tracking and neuroimaging to provide new insights into how meaning percolates to visual processing.”

Lea-Maria Schmitt will study how the brain tests different explanations for incoming sensory information to make sense of the world around us. Schmitt: “Our environment requires to make numerous such “predictions” while the resources of the brain are limited. What is a viable neurobiological account for efficiently representing and updating predictions in the brain? In my research, I will study this question in human visual perception by fusing functional magnetic resonance imaging with laminar precision and computational modelling.”

Yamil Vidal is instead interested in the sense of hearing. He will study how expectations can determine what we hear, and what we don’t. Vidal: “The typical example is a noisy bar. Usually we manage to understand what we are told despite the noise, because our brains can “guess” which are the most likely next words in a sentence. But the same is also true for music, or for any sounds that have some predictable patter. I will use functional magnetic resonance with very high resolution to study how the auditory system manages to do this, and why sometimes it fails”.

Judit Fazekas will study how our ability to guess upcoming linguistic input might help children learn language. Fazekas: “During my Marie Curie fellowship I hope to learn from the members of the Predictive Brain Lab about the most up-to-date approaches to targeting predictive processes in the brain and utilise these in my own research. I hope that my research leads to a clearer picture in how children can successfully learn language and contribute to interventions that help those who find this process more difficult.”

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