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Master Theses

Theses

Master Projects Comparative Psychology 2020/21

The malleability of human decisions

Imagine summer holidays are approaching and you have to decide whether spending a large amount of money on a very fancy trip or saving this money to buy a house in the future and rather go now on a short trip only. How can you make a long-term oriented decision? Imagine now, while making such decision, that a colleague tells you about a charity she's volunteering at. You could either keep all the money you were deciding about before, or rather donate part of it to this charity. What could make you more altruistic? Intertemporal choice (first example) and prosocial choice (second example) are malleable, meaning that people can be induced to behave more prudently or more generously through several psychological and neuroscientific manipulations.

Supervisor: Dr. Manuela Sellitto Teamwork possible: max. 1 Master student and 2 Bachelor students

Language: English, but some German skills are required for testing participants

 

Economic decision making of animal and human consumers

We buy things every day and our consuming behavior is often influenced by the price of commodities, as well as our budget for shipping. In this study, we aim to understand how the price and budget will influence the consuming behavior on both animal and human subjects. Further investigations on the underlying neural mechanism will be conducted by animal electrophysiological recordings and human imaging methods. [Animal part]: students will assist in running the experiment, including animal handling and behavioral training. Daily availability required. [Human part]: students will conduct the behavioral experiment on human subjects, or assist in collecting human imaging data. German skills required.

Supervisor: Dr. Yue Hu

Teamwork possible: 2 Master students Language: English

 

That is for you to decide: Decision Making under Stress

Do you crave more sweets during exams? Or did you ever have some junk food after a long, stressful work day? Stress is known to alter our preferences, not only in the context of food. This is not always in line with our longterm goals. I am interested in investigating revealed preferences and economic rationality under normal and adverse conditions. Bachelor students can be involved in correlational designs (one-person projects) or Cold Pressor Test experiments (3-person projects). Master Students can assist in currently running projects or more ambitious independent experiments (after consultation). Interest in microeconomics and /or programming is advantageous.

Supervisor: Felix Jan Nitsch

Language: German/English

 

Decision making in social contexts

Rat communication is a very motivating topic for me, indeed I am going to analyze the ultrasonic vocalization of rats in different contexts to find out the behavioral significance of these calls regarding their characteristic acoustic parameters. Moreover I would like to observe the cell activity of brain's  certain regions through electrophysical methods during behavioral tasks to find out more details about the neural underpinning of rats certain behavior. 

Supervisor: Dooman Seidisarouei

Language: English

 

Social preferences in a transgenic rat model for schizophrenia

The student will work with a novel transgenic rat model for schizophrenia. Recent genetic studies have linked mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to alterations in disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1), a multifunctional scaffolding protein.  DISC1 encodes a cytoplasmic protein with many potential interaction partners, but its cellular functions remain poorly understood. One line of evidence links the DISC1 protein to the subcortical dopamine (DA) system, which is heavily implicated in psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia as well. DA plays a crucial role in value based decision making through the generation of prediction errors to unexpected events. In this research project, social preferences in a range of social decision making tasks will be tested on a cohort of rats with a DISC1 mutation and wildtype controls. 

The student(s) will perform established social preference/social decision making tests in the lab using the transgenic DISC1 rats and littermate controls. Student(s) will be trained in animal handling and care, and will learn to perform the daily experiments independantly. Offline data analysis concerns video tracking of animals, behavioral observations and analysis of ultrasonic communications. No programming skills required. Possibility to learn Matlab/Python and R. 

Supervisor: Dooman Seidisarouei, MSc.

Teamwork: is possible

Duration: 6 months

 

Pharmacology of conformity in rats

Social conformity refers to a modification of own behavior to match to others behavior, which could also be found in animals. There is growing evidence in the literature that the neurotransmitter serotonin or hormones like oxytocin or vasopressin influence social behavior. The planned study will investigate whether social conformity could be regulated by locally manipulating these systems. 

This project will involve animal handling and training animals on behavioral tasks. Daily availability (3hrs per weekday minimum) required. 

Supervisor: Dr. Sandra Schäble

teamwork possible: max. 2 students

Language: German or English

 

Appetitive and aversive discounting in rats

Humans have been shown to defer punishments and costs into the future, suggesting that future punishments are discounted relative to immediate punishments. There is only inconclusive evidence to which extent animals accelerate or defer aversive future events. We have conducted a pilot study     to test animals future discounting of aversive events. As a next step we want to investigate if intertemporal decisions involving aversive events are modulated by serotonergic action since the serotonergic system is discussed to be implicated in aversive processing.

This project will involve animal handling and training animals on behavioral tasks. Daily availability (3-4 hrs per weekday minimum) required. 

Supervisor: Dr. Sandra Schäble

teamwork possible: max. 2 students

Language: German or English

 

External theses

Clinical neuroscience / Neurorehabilitation

Supervisor: Dr. Bettina Studer (St. Mauritius Klinik Meerbusch, Neuropsychologie) Click here!

 

Serotonergic modulation of impulsivity and decision making

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is predominantly characterized by increased impulsivity and frequently combined with suboptimal decision making. In the case of the serotonin-catalizing tryptophan hydroxylase-2  (TPH2) gene, the null mutant mice (Tph2-/-)  have been discussed as candidate model for ADHD, as variants of the TPH2 gene has been associated increased impulsivity and increased punishment behavior. In this project, we address the influence of the TPH2 genotype on impulsive behavior and impulsivity-induced brain activation as well as decision making via the ultimate game in children and adolescents with and without ADHD using fMRI. 

The candidate should be motivated to (a) assist the recruitment of participants, perform behavioral testing and fMRI measurements procedure and (b) analyze fMRI data. 

Supervisor: PD Dr. Susanne Neufang

Language: English or German

Teamwork: possible, 1 student (Master)

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