Research

We investigate how the neural system forecasts threat, with the goal of developing novel psychiatric treatments. Threat to survival comes from many sources: starvation, predation, self-defending animals, accidents, or inter-human conflict. Humans have access to a large repertoire of survival actions. Currently, we lack an understanding how these actions are selected and coordinated. A requirement to act ultra-fast under threat, and with high precision, poses interesting challenges in forecasting threat correctly.

Our main affiliation is with the Max-Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research at University College London. In Zurich, we participate in the Clinical Research Priority Program "Synapse & Trauma" and investigate how synaptic plasticity-inhibiting drugs impact on different forms of human memory. Thus, we hope to pave the way for such drugs to reach clinical studies.

We seek to advance behavioural research methods for the quantification of threat memory. Fear memory quantification in humans is currently noisy. We have developed Psychophysiological Modelling (PsPM) to improve on the sample size required to achieve a useful level of statistical power in fear conditioning research. We work on reducing the required sample size to a level that affords high-throughput screening of fear-suppressing interventions in humans.

 

Finally, we take a cross-species perspective and investigate serious computer games that reflect animal setups to study threat avoidance. Thus we seek to make comparative statements on the neural circuits supporting survival behaviours in humans, in relation to other animals.

 

Research Projects

Clinical Research Priority Program "Synapse & Trauma" (funded by UZH 2019-2021)

Action selection under threat: the complex control of human defense (European Research Council Consolidator Grant 2019-2014, University College London)

 

Keywords

Computational models

Threat avoidance

Cross-species research

Anxiety disorder

Fear conditioning