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Research and Labs

The research activities of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy can be roughly divided into three main research areas. The research work is mostly empirical in nature using a wide spectrum of methods  (peripheral physiological and endocrinological parameters like heart rate, muscle tension and stress hormones, as well as EEG and fMRI).

 

Experimental Psychopathology and Mechanisms of Psychotherapeutic Modification

The mechanisms surrounding the development, maintenance and treatment of mental disorders are investigated within the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy with the use of experimental and clinical-neuroscientific methods.

Currently, disorder relevant learning and information processing mechanisms, particularly in the case of pathological fear, are investigated. New findings in basic research in the acquisition and the maintenance of emotional memories are expanded upon to understand the pathological changes in such  mechanisms in patients with disorders such as specific phobias, social anxiety and depression. Also investigated is how alcohol influences and modulates such dysfunctional information processing. Based on the knowledge gained from basic research, the role of dysfunctional changes within social cognitive processes as well as their neuronal correlates are analysed with respect to several disorders.

One further research theme is the investigation of mechanisms underlying cognitive, affective-motivational and behavioral changes as well as their neuronal correlated in the context of psychotherapeutic interventions. Such questions will be investigated with patients with social phobia as part of a large cooperation project with the Psychosomatic Clinic of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim.

 

Psychobiology of Pain Information Processing

The development of chronic pain is often accompanied by the formation of "pain memories" which are based on plastic neuronal changes in the central nervous system. An important question is whether pain experience in early childhood, i.e. at a period when the pain processing system is not yet fully matured, can lead to long-term changes in the experience of and sensitivity to pain. This will be determined in children and adolescents who either underwent intensive medical supervision directly after birth or suffered burn injuries at a young age. Such long term changes to the pain processing network can be a risk factor for the later development of a chronic pain problem. A further research focus is the investigation of psychobiological mechanisms such as the cognitive assessment of pain or hypervigilance, but also neuronal pain information processing among children and adolescents, who already suffer from forms of chronic pain, such as head aches or stomach aches. Such children and adolescents are also given the opportunity to avail themselves of outpatient pain therapy.

 

Neural Underpinnings of Creative Thinking

Although creativity is among the most fascinating of all human abilities, astonishingly little is known about the brain mechanisms underlying such abilities. This is due to technical as well as conceptual shortcomings generally associated with creativity. In cooperation with the Department of General Psychology II at the University of Frankfurt, new experimental Paradigms have been devised to systematically assess fundamental aspects of creative cognition, such as conceptual expansion. We investigate the neurodynamics of such processes with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and event related potentials (ERP).

 

Cooperation Partners

We have research cooperations with several local and national scientific institutes and clinics (Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim; Department of General Psychology II, University of Frankfurt; Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig; Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Münster). The department also participates in the Gießener Graduiertenzentrum Lebenswissenschaften (GGL). Moreover, there are also international research cooperations with the University College London and the University of Manchester in the UK.

 

Laboratories

The department contains 3 psychophysiological laboratories which allow for the measurement of several peripheral-physiological indices (e.g., EMG, SCR, heart rate, breathing rate, startle response) as well as EEG. Investigations with fMRI are carried out in collaboration with the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging (BION).  Several machines are available for pain research investigations and allow for the measurement of the processing of heat caused pain, mechanical caused pain and pressure caused pain.