Fellows' Abstracts

In alphabetical order by author.

Warsha Barde, Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE), Dresden

The Role of Learning in the Development of Individuality

We used the IntelliCage (IC) apparatus which is a computer-based, fully-automated home cage system to analyze the exploratory, learning and social behavior of mice. Genetically identical mice, when subjected to a series of learning tasks, showed individualized behavioral trajectories that become divergent over time. IC mice also showed a significant increase in adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) which correlated positively with different aspects of learning. In the absence of genetic and environmental variance, this emergence of individuality is attributed to environmental enrichment (ENR) that facilitates a differential experience of the ‘non-shared’ environment, augmenting small initial differences and setting animals on individual life paths. We hypothesize that the feedback loop between behavior and experience-dependent plasticity is a driving mechanism for the individualization of the brain and consequently behavioral patterns. Using IntelliCage as a reductionist version of ENR, we aim to study the role and relative contribution of learning and educational experiences in inducing the ENR-effects. We will first study the process of individualization of behavioral patterns by analyzing exploratory and learning curves. We will then examine the relationship between behavioral features and brain plasticity measures like AHN and hippocampal functional connectome by using immunohistochemistry and ex-vivo electrophysiology.


Sabrina Beck, University of Zurich

Growing into Parenting Together: Similarities and Differences in Parenting Practices Among First-Time Parents

Introduction: Coparenting is important for promoting healthy child development. A high degree of agreement on parental attitudes, behaviors and goals is conducive to successful coparenting. Here, we investigate the factors which contribute to similarities and differences in parenting behavior between mothers and fathers within the same family. Furthermore, we are examining how accurately parents perceive and assess their partner in terms of their parenting practices. Methods: Since June 2022, we are recruiting Swiss-German first-time parents that live together and have an only child at 12, 24 or 36 months (+/- 3 months). Parents are completing an online survey on parenting practices both as a self-assessment and an assessment of their partner’s parenting practices. In addition, demographic variables such as education levels, age, etc., as well as relationship satisfaction are assessed. Data collection will be continued until aimed sample size of 180 parent couples has been reached. Results: We expect data collection to be completed in September 2022. The study is preregistered; accordingly, data will not be viewed until data collection is complete. We will run an APIM model for all four scales on parenting practices (positive parenting, responsible parenting, authoritarian parenting, inconsistent discipline) and conduct Multigroup APIM analyses. Discussion: We expect higher levels of parenting agreement among couples who share similar demographic backgrounds, have longer-lasting and more satisfying relationships, and among parents with younger children compared to older children. Conclusion: Once data analysis is completed, the results will be interpreted and discussed.


Elena Bolt, University of Zurich

Cortical and Subcortical Processing of Speech in the Brain at Risk for Dementia

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the cognitive decline associated with normal aging and the more severe decline associated with dementia. Given the strong link between hearing and cognition, neurophysiological data from participants diagnosed with MCI can shed light on how speech processing deficits along the auditory pathway characterize the brain at risk for dementia. Furthermore, such data could disentangle interactions between cognitive impairment and age-related hearing loss. In the auditory pathway, signals pass through subcortical relay stations before being integrated in cortical areas. A recent study suggests that the pathophysiology of MCI extends to speech encoding in the brainstem and that both cortical and subcortical markers of speech processing have predictive potential for MCI. In our study, we investigate cortical and subcortical processing of natural speech in MCI and control participants (≥ 60 years of age) with novel electroencephalography methods. We expect altered processing in the MCI group, driven by slowed and weaker encoding at the subcortical level. In the next step, we aim to use the neural markers of speech processing that emerge from this framework as features for a diagnostic model that predicts MCI using a classifier while accounting for participants’ hearing status.


Jasmin Brummer, University of Zurich

Select and Succeed: Adult Age-Differences in Value-Based Remembering of Gain- and Loss-Related Information

Declarative-memory performance declines across adulthood. However, the ability to remember selectively, based on the importance of information, tends to remain stable. Importance is related to personal goals, and information related to personal goals is processed preferentially. This has also been shown for information matching the motivational orientation that is more relevant to one’s age group (e.g., Depping & Freund, 2013).

In the current research, we investigate the motivation-cognition interaction with a value-based remembering (VDR) paradigm, in which successful remembering leads to either gaining points or preventing the loss of points. In contrast to previous VDR tasks, multiple gain- and loss-associated items are presented simultaneously in a spatial matrix. Remembering can therefore be investigated for item and context memory (compound item-location associations). Strategic selectivity and memory for gain- and loss-related items is measured with a selectivity index.

We expected higher declarative memory performance for younger than older adults and investigate whether older adults remember loss items more selectively than younger adults (and vice versa for younger adults). This study aims at providing new insights into how aging affects the prioritization of information in memory. This has applied implications for how information should be framed to ensure successful recall in older adults.


Laura Buchinger, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW) Berlin

A Longitudinal Study on the Association Between Life Goals and the Big Five Traits

Basic traits and motivational constructs like life goals are both critically relevant to fully capture an individual’s personality. Yet, lifespan development of the two constructs has largely been examined in separate lines of research. In our preregistered study, we investigated the co-development of nine life goals and the Big Five traits in a large, heterogeneous sample (N=55,040, age range: 18-103 years) over a study period of 13 years, using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Applying bivariate latent growth curve modeling, we identified moderate to weak co-development in eight out of 45 goal-trait combinations. Co-development was strongest for openness and agentic goals with a focus on personal growth (i.e., self-fulfillment) followed by agreeableness and communal goals (i.e., being there for others). Conscientiousness co-developed with agentic and communal goals. Contrary to previous research, our results suggest longitudinal associations between neuroticism and communal life goals (i.e. having a happy relationship/marriage). Some co-developmental patterns were moderated by age, perceived control, gender and educational background. Age appeared to have a complex effect on co-development. Results are discussed with regard to recent theoretical models of personality development, such as the self-regulation perspective and the corresponsive principle.


Katharine E. Daniel, University of Virginia

Characterizing Affect Dynamics in High Versus Low Trait Anxiety Sensitivity Individuals: Discussing Modeling Ideas and Challenges

Affect is inherently unstable, pushed up and down by an ever-changing combination of internal and external events. How affect changes over time is associated with psychological health; describing affect’s trajectories using dynamical systems analysis (DSA) can reveal how affect is self-regulated and point to potential opportunities for clinical intervention. Two separate studies experimentally manipulated the external input introduced into adult participants’ (N = 140 and N = 119) affective systems by interjecting positively and negatively valenced sentences throughout a series of stories that participants were asked to listen to while continuously rating their state affect. By presenting the same affective stimuli to all participants, this work offers the opportunity to more cleanly identify individual differences in affect regulation (e.g., equilibrium, reactivity, attractor strength) that may otherwise be obscured by potential differences in the contexts that individuals self-select into during naturalistic observations. However, aspects of the experimental design also complicate the analytic approach. This talk will therefore present modeling ideas and challenges, along with conceptual considerations, when attempting to apply DSA to these data to better understand individual differences in affect regulation.


Plamina Dimanova, University of Zurich

Intergenerational Transfer effects on Corticolimbic Gray Matter Volume of Mother–Child Dyads

Aims: Intergenerational transfer effects are reflected in traits’ transmission from parents to their children. While behaviorally well documented, intergenerational transfer effects on neurobiological level are rarely investigated and studies examining the combination of behavioral and neurobiological endophenotypes in familial context are missing.

Methods: Structural brain data was acquired in 39 dyads (33 mothers/39 children, 7-14y, 16 girls). T1-weighted images were pre-processed in FreeSurfer and gray matter volume (GMV) of the corticolimbic circuitry was extracted (bilateral amygdala, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate, and medial orbitofrontal area). Dyadic similarity was calculated by Pearson’s correlation coefficients and familial specificity was assessed by comparison of mother-child dyads to unrelated mother-child pairings using a permutation approach.

Results: Similarity was higher in mother-child dyads compared to unrelated mother-child pairings (p=0.001). The similarity index for male and female children did not differ. Structural similarity in the subcortical regions was higher compared to the neocortical regions (p=0.05). Dyadic difference in GMV predicts 16.4% of the variance in dyadic difference in well-being.

Conclusion: An increase in knowledge on the mechanisms underlying intergenerational transfer effects reflected in biology and behavior of parent-child dyads may impact our understanding of complex skill transmission and developmental trajectories leading to health and disease.


Christine Dworschak, University of Zurich

Loneliness as a Relevant Clinical Phenomenon: Development and Evaluation of an Internet-Based CBT Intervention for the Treatment of Loneliness in Older Individuals

Loneliness has been described as one of the main risk factors for both physical and mental illness. Although loneliness is evident across the lifespan, it is more likely in populations who are at risk for social isolation, such as older individuals. Interestingly, a meta-analysis revealed that the most effective intervention strategy to reduce loneliness is cognitive restructuring (which is a core element of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)). However, most existing loneliness interventions do not focus on cognitive restructuring. In addition, it has been shown that although effective interventions exist, only a small number of older individuals seek face-to-face psychological treatment. Internet-based interventions have the potential to bridge this treatment gap. Therefore, the aim of my PhD project is to develop and evaluate the first internet-based CBT intervention for the treatment of loneliness in older individuals. In this presentation, I would like to elaborate on the development process of our intervention, discuss content as well as features of the internet-based program and provide an outlook on the planned study design to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention.


Blake Ebright, University of Michigan

Development of Critical Thinking: Does College Really Matter?

Most professors believe that a college education strongly enhances critical thinking. While this is corroborated by pertinent empirical research, the validity of the underlying measures of critical thinking is weak. We constructed two performance assessment tasks based on real-life decision-making dilemmas with stronger ecological validity. In our operationalization, critical thinking skills are evidenced by (1) prolific and balanced argumentation regarding pros and cons, (2) source analysis regarding trustworthiness and relevance, and (3) quality of written communication regarding spelling, grammar, and text structure. Our multidimensional analysis of a one-semester longitudinal study demonstrated that one-third of students relied on arguments that were strong moral imperatives, a trend that increased to over half of students by the end of the semester. In line with this finding, critical thinking only developed along one axis of our operationalization: identifying more arguments. Interestingly, this did not necessarily result in a more balanced or unbiased paper. Students also showed a downward trend in their ability to analyze sources as relevant and trustworthy. Apart from having balanced arguments—which seniors were better able to improve upon—these findings are consistent across classes and thus raise doubts about effect sizes reported in prior research.


Vanessa Frei, University of Zurich

The Facilitative Role of Visual Speech Cues for Speech in Noise Perception – How is Audio-Visual Speech Processed in Older Hearing-Impaired Individuals?

Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) is associated with difficulty understanding speech, particularly in the presence of background noise (SiN). Furthermore, ARHL is assumed to demand cognitive capacity in SiN processing, resulting in inadequate cognitive resources for other tasks, eventually facilitating cognitive decline. Audiovisual enhancement of speech processing (AV speech), however, contributes significantly to SiN performance and can reduce cognitive demands. We investigated the effects of AV vs. audio only (A) listening conditions on 1) intelligibility and comprehension tasks and 2) neural continuous speech processing (i.e., neural speech tracking, a measure reflecting the synchronization of low-frequency auditory cortex activity with temporal regularity of speech) in 68 older hearing-impaired participants. We presented natural, noise-masked sentences (8 overlapping sentences, SNR = 0) in A and AV (showing speaker’s mouth and chin) while EEG was recorded. The data shows that, despite matched audiometry, there is a dichotomous distribution in SiN perception, which can at least partly be explained by differences in the central processing of speech. Additionally, the low-performer group shows significant benefit from audiovisual speech presentation, which is accompanied by significant increases in neural tracking. These findings at least partially explain individual differences in the benefit of audio-visual speech cues.


Urmimala Ghose, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin/DIW

How Spousal Bereavement Shapes Life Satisfaction: Stability and Change Across Historical Time

Lifespan psychological and life course sociological research have shown that spousal bereavement constitutes one of the most stressful life events that is often predictive of declines in well-being and physical health as well as elevated mortality hazards. It is an open question though whether and how well-being implications of spousal bereavement have changed over the past decades. On the one hand, it stands to reason that diffusing gender roles in romantic partnerships, together with diversifying and expanding social networks might buffer well-being decrements. Conversely, historically increased caregiver responsibilities prior to spousal loss might make bereaved spouses even more vulnerable to the associated distress. We plan to use data from 2,345 participants in the German Socioeconomic Panel obtained since 1985 and track the changes in their life satisfaction as a key indicator of well-being during the experience of spousal loss. We will build on and extend earlier approaches distinguishing anticipation, reaction, and adaptation phases and examine historical shifts therein. We expect that current cohorts of bereaved spouses exhibit steeper declines in the anticipation phase, but less steep declines during the immediate reaction phase and faster recovery during the adaptation phase than matched respondents from earlier cohorts. We will also probe the role of physical health and lifestyle factors, including disabilities and activities, as moderators of change.


Marlene Hecht, MPI for Human Development

Does Social Sampling Differ Between Online and Offline Contacts?

Decision makers can infer population level-statistics (e.g., consumer preferences) by drawing on samples from their personal social networks. In light of the growing use of the Internet, much of people’s social interactions occur online rather than offline. Here, we examine to what extent sampling of social network members from memory (social sampling) is affected by whether one usually has online vs. offline contact to a person. In two studies, participants judged the popularity of holiday destinations and the prevalence of health issues, and recalled people in their social networks who had vacationed at each destination or had experienced each health issue. Additionally, participants indicated the contact mode (offline, online, or mixed) and social category (self, family, friend, or acquaintance) of each recalled person. We used a hierarchical Bayesian modeling approach to compare sequential and limited search strategies guided by contact mode or social category to exhaustive search and guessing. The majority of participants was best described by a limited rather than an exhaustive search strategy or guessing. In both domains, participants relied less strongly on information from online contacts, and more on other social subgroups. Overall, these results provide the first evidence that contact mode affects social sampling from memory.


Natascha Helbling, University of Zurich

Should Hanpei Refuse the Gift? Intercultural Children's Reactions to Norm Decisions and Violations

In recent years, more and more people with different cultural backgrounds are living closely together and knowledge about cultural differences in everyday interactions is becoming increasingly relevant. In this context, social norms play an essential role because groups with shared values and beliefs create them to provide guidelines for appropriate behaviour in different social contexts. While social norms have frequently been studied with monocultural children, not much is known about how intercultural children differ in their understanding and reasoning about social norms of their own and other cultures.

In this study, we are currently investigating the reactions of 4- to 12-year-old mono- and bicultural children living in Switzerland, Hong Kong, or England to a selection of pre-surveyed social norms. In the first task, we ask participants to decide how protagonists with different cultural backgrounds would act in social norm-scenarios by showing them a picture book story with norm-compliant and norm-violating behaviour options. In the second task, participants are confronted with the protagonist’s actual behaviour. We then ask them to rate the protagonist's behaviour as "okay" or "not okay". I will present the findings from a subsample of Swiss mono- and bicultural children.

Jens Heumann, University of Zurich

Increased Stress Reactivity Threshold in Victims of Bullying

Exposures to acute and chronic stressors are associated with manifold forms of physical and mental distress. Some scientists, using human subjects and animal models, have focused on biopsychological mechanisms that account for these associations, while others have documented the social origins of distress, most prominently socioeconomic status. In this paper, we join insights from these two strands of research, examining how a potent social stressor, victimization by bullies, alters people’s threshold for judging whether other people are angry (which, in turn, can lead to increased chronic stressors in everyday life).
We draw on data from "Zürcher Untersuchung zu Gehirn und Immungenen" (ZGIG), a subset of about 200 subjects from the z-proso longitudinal study of children and youth (n ≈ 1400). The small sample size of ZGIG allowed for extensive measurement of the stress process, and data from z-proso provided bullying data across five waves from ages 10 to 21. Facial emotion discrimination (FED) was measured at about age 22 using a morphing task in which subjects identified the mid-point in a superimposed spectrum of expressions between joy and aggression in 42 faces from the Chicago Face Database (CFD).
We examine victim, perpetrator, and victim-perpetrator clusters of bullying, with unaffected individuals serving as controls. To draw causal inferences, we consider bullying quasi-experimentally as a non-randomly assigned treatment and balance observations based on the probability of receiv-ing its treatment in a joint model.
Results of a propensity-score-weighted mixed model show that subjects in the victim cluster rated higher levels of aggression in faces as neutral when compared with the unaffected group. The results support theories of blunted response due to overstimulation. Multinomial logistic regression results show that subjects from low socio-economic status (SES) households were more likely to fall into the victim cluster. The decomposition of the SES association shows that the effects are mainly due to low educational attainment of the parents.


Michael Krämer, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW) Berlin

Social Dynamics and Momentary Affect: Combining Experience Sampling and Mobile Sensing Data

Social interactions are crucial to happiness. Still, people vary interindividually and intraindividually in their social desire. We investigate how momentary affect relates to temporal dynamics in social interactions focusing on social deprivation, i.e., being alone but desiring to be in contact with others, and social oversatiation, i.e., being in contact with others but desiring to be alone. We preregistered hypotheses that mismatches between desire and experienced interactions are associated with decreased momentary affect. 306 participants (51% women, age M = 39.8, 18–80 years) answered up to 20 questionnaires about their social interactions and affect over two days while also providing mobile sensing data. Using both experience sampling and mobile sensing data to form indices of social interactions, we analyze how momentary affect changes during the experience of social deprivation or oversatiation, and how personality moderates the effects. First results indicate no significant effects for social deprivation, but decreases to positive affect and increases to negative affect during social oversatiation which are not moderated by personality traits.


Wilson Merrell, University of Michigan

Conspicuous Experiences as Unique Social Signals of Both Status and Warmth

Buying and displaying expensive purchases socially signals that one possesses wealth and status. To date, the literature exploring this conspicuous consumption process has largely focused on material goods (e.g., cars) but explicitly neglected targets of consumption such as experiences (e.g., vacations) whose transitory nature presumably makes them relatively poor social signals. In contrast, we contend that people can flaunt expensive experiential purchases through direct communication and more permanent channels such as social media, making experiences potentially strong indicators of wealth and status. Three studies and an internal meta-analysis show that experiential conspicuous consumption conveys status equivalently to material conspicuous consumption, and further, these experiences uniquely boost communal perceptions. Three additional studies testing mechanisms for this communal benefit demonstrate that inferences of intrinsic motivation play a key role. These findings broaden our understanding of status perception, and they position conspicuous experiences as signaling tools with their own set of interpersonal benefits.


Shannon M. Savell, University of Virginia

Partners Now Parents: Exploring the Psychosocial and Epigenetic Changes Over the Course of the Transition to Parenthood for First-Time Parents

Becoming a parent is a highly anticipated milestone for many couples, yet previous research suggests that nearly 70% of couples experience a sharp decline in romantic satisfaction after the birth of the couple’s first child (Shapiro et al., 2000), potentially as a result of the stress and strain on the couple’s relationship. Sustained dissatisfaction and unresolved conflict are known predictors of relationship dissolution (i.e., divorce) and sustained stress without perceived support is a known precursor of post-partum depression (Schulz et al., 2006), both of which negatively impact infant and early childhood psychosocial and physical development. In the current study, we evaluate the efficacy of an evidence-based couples teletherapy preventive intervention tailored for the stressors associated with the sensitive period of the transition to parenthood for 66 first-time parents (33 couples) using a variety of psychosocial, behavioral, and biological outcome indicators. Importantly, this will be one of the first studies of its kind to track oxytocin levels, an essential biological component in familial bonding, over the course of the transition to parenthood for both male and female partners in the context of a preventive intervention, giving us an integral view into the changes associated with this critical period. Preliminary results and implications will be discussed.


Raffael Schmitt, University of Zurich

The Impact of Age-Related Hearing Loss on Cortical Lip-Contour Tracking

The alignment between low-frequency activity in the brain and slow acoustic modulations in the speech signal depicts a core principle in present theories of speech perception—a process referred to as “neural speech tracking”. Unlike the auditory domain, little is known about how the brain processes visual cues of continuous speech and how these processes change as a function of age-related hearing loss.

In this planned study, a sample of elderly subjects with varying degrees of hearing loss completes speech perception tasks while their brain activity is measured using EEG. Participants are presented with sentences where the speaker is either visible or not and where there’s either noise present or not. Neural speech tracking will be measured by computing the synchronization between brain activity and the lip-contour of the speaker using weighted pairwise phase consistency. Statistical analysis will be conducted on trial level data using generalized linear mixed effects models.

We hypothesize that hearing loss and external noise is associated with enhanced lip-contour tracking. Furthermore, we hypothesize that the association between noise and lip-contour tracking is modulated by the degree of hearing loss (i.e., a significant interaction between hearing loss and noise).


Sina A. Schwarze, MPI for Human Development

Training-Induced Plasticity of Frontoparietal Activation and Connectivity During Task Switching in Children

With age, children become better at flexibly switching between tasks and adapting to changing environments. Children’s difficulties with task switching diminish with training, but the neural correlates of these improvements are largely unknown. I examined whether task-switching training in children led to more efficient rule processing in frontoparietal regions, as previously shown in adults, or if children adapted during training via different neural mechanisms. Children aged 8 to 11 years underwent nine weeks of single-task (SI) or task-switching (SW) practice on tablets at home, or were part of a passive control group (MC). They performed task switching in the MRI scanner on four timepoints. Children in the SW group showed greater increases in drift rates during task switching compared to the SI and MC groups, suggesting faster evidence accumulation for the correct response with task-switching practice. Frontoparietal brain regions associated with maintenance and management of multiple task sets (i.e., dorsolateral PFC and superior parietal lobe) showed training-related reductions in activation in the SW group, potentially implicating these mechanisms in improved task-switching performance. Reduced activation of the anterior insula on switch trials in the SW group after training might suggest less reliance of a salience drive response mode on switch trials.


Sarah Swanke, MPI for Human Development

Risk Preference Development in Childhood and its Determinants in Two Western Societies

Risk is an inherent part of life, and thus, an individual’s unique risk preference guides their decisions over the life course. Most developmental theories and empirical literature focus on the transition from late childhood to adolescence, despite early childhood being critical for the development of personality and other cognitive skills. To explore the significance of childhood on the foundation of risk preference, our study examines two nationally representative samples of children aged 2–10 in the UK and Germany (n = 10,624). The UK sample also includes a longitudinal subset (n= 1,383). Our findings, based on linear and multi-level models, show that risk preference forms –and willingness to take risks –systematically decreases. This occurs substantially earlier than current theories account for. As children show meaningful differences in their development patterns, the emerging risk preference is not exclusively the result of some uniform biological maturation mechanism. Gender, while important in adolescence and adulthood, does not appear to play as critical a role for risk preference in childhood. These findings recenter early childhood as a meaningful origin of risk preference formation. Further, they encourage research into how early childhood experiences and innate childhood traits contribute to an individual’s lifelong willingness to take risks.


Kathy Xie, University of Michigan

Working Memory Re-Exposure Improves Episodic Memory in Older and Younger Adults

According to the associative deficit hypothesis, age-related declines in episodic memory (EM) are due to difficulty forming and retrieving associations. Deficits in associative binding during working memory (WM) may also contribute to EM decline. We investigated whether re-exposure to word-pairs (associations) or single words (items) during a three-alternative forced choice WM recognition test helps or harms EM in 115 older (OA) and 120 younger adults (YA) recruited from Prolific. OA received longer study times per pair to compensate for age-related reductions in processing speed. We used a multinomial process tree model to derive separate estimates of EM for word-pairs and individual words. The results suggest that pair re-exposure during a WM test benefits associative and item EM for both age groups. Contrasting with the well-known age-related associative deficit, OA showed superior associative EM compared to YA, even for YA and OA subsets selected for equivalent WM performance. However, the representativeness of our online samples, and differing study times may limit the generality of these group differences. Nevertheless, WM re-exposure improved EM for both groups, suggesting a WM testing benefit regardless of age.

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