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Senne Braem

PI

I did my Masters in Experimental psychology at Ghent University, an internship at Humboldt University, Berlin, and worked as a PhD student back in Ghent with Wim Notebaert and Tom Verguts (2009-2013). I worked as a postdoc with Marcel Brass and Jan De Houwer (2013-2015), and as a visiting researcher with Tobias Egner (Duke University, US) and Michael W. Cole (Rutgers University, US). I started as an assistant professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2018, and as an associate professor at Ghent University in 2020. Outside of research, I like spending time with family and friends, and trying out new food or music. And I'm uncertain about how to write a short bio.

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Pieter Verbeke

Postdoc

I am a postdoctoral researcher, in Senne Braem’s and Tom Verguts’ lab. My main research topic is how humans and artificial agents organize task representations to learn and perform multiple tasks. For this purpose, I aim to connect artificial neural networks and computational models to behavioural and neurophysiological (EEG or fMRI) human data. When I’m not busy doing research, I try to spend most of my time with my family (2 kids, my wive and a dog). If there is still some time left, I try to keep up to date with the latest news on sports (mainly cycling) and belgian politics.

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Zhang Chen

Postdoc

I am a postdoc in Frederick Verbruggen’s and Senne Braem’s lab. My current work aims to understand how excessive gambling behavior arises and can be reduced. To do this, I combine a data science approach, in which I analyze large-scale secondary data from real-world gambling behavior, and an experimental approach, in which I design gambling-like tasks to isolate the influence of specific design features of gambling products. In my free time, I like going to the gym, bouldering, eating nice food and (sometimes binge) watching TV series.

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Sam Verschooren

Postdoc

I am a postdoctoral researcher in Marcel Brass' and Senne Braem's lab. My main research topic is the interaction between external (perception-directed) and internal (memory-directed) attention. To understand how attention transitions between these states and what its function and consequences are, I mostly rely on reaction time and error rate data. I started working on this topic during my PhD (2016-2020) in Gilles Pourtois' lab, which included a research stay with Tobias Egner (Duke Uni). Before that, I obtained my Master's in experimental psychology and, even further back in time, my Master's in philosophy. When I'm not doing research, I like to go out with friends, read a book, or exercise. A more recent passion of mine is mindfulness meditation, which actually has some interesting connections to external and internal attention.

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Shengjie Xu

PhD Student

Cognitive flexibility is a core function of cognitive control, which supports our adaptive behaviours. But what makes us cognitive flexible? According to associative learning theory, if one behaviour always occur under a specific context, human would bind this behaviour to the context. This learned association, in turn, makes the behaviour context-sensitive (i.e., the behaviour can be triggered by the context). However, it is also interesting to ask whether such association exists between context and cognitive flexibility, especially when the context is predictive to an upcoming change in the environment. The answer is able to help us uncover the mechanisms that drive cognitive flexibility. Working with Senne Braem and Tom Verguts, I will investigate the behavioural and neural mechanism underlying the contextual effect in triggering cognitive flexibility during my PhD study: whether the cognitive flexibility can be context-sensitive. I will conduct my research by using behavioural measurement, psychophysiological and neuroimaging techniques (pupillometry/EEG/fMRI), as well as computational modelling. In my free time, I enjoy playing/watching basketball, jogging and listening to music. I am also enthusiastic to try new things and challenge myself.

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Leslie Held

PhD Student

After having completed my masters in Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience at Radboud University in Nijmegen, I started my PhD within the CoCoFlex ERC-STG project on cognitive flexibility. Together with Senne Braem, Ruth Krebs and Wim Notebaert, I am interested in whether cognitive flexibility as a higher-order cognitive function can be selectively reinforced. More specifically, we aim to test whether voluntary task switching is actually guided by the same principles as lower-level (associative) processes, i.e. the learning of stimulus-response mappings following reward. When I’m not doing research, I love to task-switch between reading, writing and running.

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Mengqiao Chai

PhD Student

My PhD project is about investigating the neural implementation of cognitive flexibility. Together with Senne Braem, Marcel Brass, and Clay Holroyd, we aim to unravel the neural mechanism which enables human to engage in flexible behaviours. Unlike previous studies which focus mainly on certain brain region or network, we are striving to build a comprehensive computational model in both temporal and spatial domain by leveraging various brain imaging techniques (EEG, fMRI), psychophysiological measurement (pupillometry), and behavioural paradigms. Before joining Senne’s lab, I obtained my Master degree on Cognitive Neuroscience at Donders Institute, Nijmegen. Outside of academia, I enjoy cooking, practicing calligraphy, and training on power lifting (beginner level).

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Mina Habibi

PhD Student

I am deeply passionate about cognitive (neuro)science in the domains of learning, memory, and decision making. I am eager to know how factors like achieving a reward or preventing punishment can influence our learning styles, memory system, and decision making strategies. I did my Masters in Cognitive Science at the University of Trento–CIMeC in Italy, and I studied “The influence of declarative learning on the consolidation of acquired motor skill under valence feedback” for my thesis. In my current project, under the supervision of Senne Braem, I am investigating whether the formation of either shared versus parallel task representations, can be selectively nudged by their reinforcement learning history or contextual features in their environment. In my free time, I like listening to podcasts, reading books, and gardening.

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Fien Goetmaeckers

PhD Student

When we are choosing from a wide set of options (e.g., which bar to go to tonight) there are different strategies with which we can choose to explore options we never tried before. For my PhD project, I study such exploration strategies and how they can be modulated by contextual cues. Together with Senne Braem and Tom Verguts, I extend computational models of reinforcement learning and test these with behavioural experiments. I have a background in Physics and Astronomy (MSc obtained at Ghent University). Besides being a curious researcher, I am a passionately inelegant figure skater, amateur poet, dance lover and adventure and sports enthusiast.

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Janne Reynders

PhD Student

Variability is a beneficial and often necessary (behavioral) strategy in life, think about problem-solving, creativity, or even evolutionary advantages. My PhD project mainly concerns the question whether or not we can be truly (and controllably) variable or even random, and how the brain would generate this (apparent) variability, e.g. is there a true stochastic generator in our brain, or are other underlying processes involved? Together with Senne Braem and Tom Verguts, I tackle this question with computational modeling and testing it with behavioral experimental data. Before my PhD, I obtained a masters in Computational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering (Université Paris-Saclay/CentraleSupélec) and before that, I completed a masters in Human Health Engineering (KU Leuven). Aside from studying variability in my PhD, I also like to try out and experience variable things in life, for example, by trying different foods or activities, learning new stuff, or by traveling, to discover other cultures and places. My more consistent hobbies include, playing guitar, climbing, running, cooking, baking, and in general hanging out with friends and family.

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Daxun Zhu

PhD Student

I obtained my master's degree in Neurolinguistics. My previous research focused on the role of cognitive control in language production. I started my PhD supervised by Senne Braem and Wim Notebaert, supported by China Scholarship Council (CSC). In my current project, I’m studying the non-linear effect of context similarity on the domain-generality of adaptive control, in which we will use two tasks with different levels of contextual similarity and employ both behavior and fMRI to evaluate the underlying hypothesis regarding the importance of overlapping task representations. Finally, we will use an extensive training session to investigate whether training aimed at creating parallel task representations can ultimately result in CSEs across tasks. In my free time, I enjoy playing/watching football, jogging, and traveling.

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Nanne Kukkonen

PhD Student

After obtaining a bachelors degree in Psychology and a masters degree in Neuroimaging for Clinical and Cognitive Neuroscience, both from the University of Manchester (UK), I joined the Cognitive Effort Project at Ghent University as a PhD student. The aim of the project is to investigate cognitive effort with a comprehensive approach, whereby the task-dependent demands as well as the volitional and dynamic nature of cognitive effort are considered. By employing neuroimaging methods, coupled with physiological measurements like pupillometry, I work with Ruth Krebs and Senne Braem on identifying the brain structures that are associated with cognitive effort, and the mechanisms by which these structures contribute to the extent of engagement in an effortful task. In addition to being a researcher, I am also a cinephile, a novice archer, and a fast jogger/slow runner.

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Jonas Simoens

PhD Student

Psychologists tend to be interested not only in understanding, but also in improving, human cognition and behaviour. Correspondingly, it has already been extensively demonstrated that concrete behaviours can indeed be modulated by selectively rewarding certain behaviours more than others. Inspired by computational models of cognitive control, I investigate whether, in the same way, it is also possible to modulate abstract task execution parameters, such as learning rate, as described by computational models of learning and decision making. Moreover, I investigate whether these parameters can be adapted to multiple environments (in terms of reward contingencies) simultaneously, guided by associated contextual features. I conduct this research in collaboration with Tom Verguts and Senne Braem, using a combination of computational modelling, behavioural and neuroimaging techniques.

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Yang Yang

PhD Student

I have completed my master in basic psychology at South China Normal University. I am now a Ph.D. student at Gent University. My research interests concern the neural mechanisms of reinforcement learning, decision-making, and cognitive control. Together with Clay Holroyd and Senne Braem, my research will mainly focus on using RSA (Representational Similarity Analysis) to examine the role of ACC in reward processing. Outside of research, I like traveling, listening to podcasts, watching movies, playing sports like badminton, volleyball, ping-pong… I like to experience new things.

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Hélène Van Marcke

PhD Student

After my masters in Theoretical and Experimental Psychology at Ghent University, I joined Kobe Desender's lab at the KU Leuven for a PhD in perceptual metacognition. I recently turned my PhD into a joint PhD supervised by both Senne and Kobe. My main focus of study is the subjective factors that influence people's decision confidence, resulting in under- or overconfidence when it comes to perceptual decisions. While it is often assumed that decision-maker compute the objective probability that their choice was correct, my research tackles this notion by showing the influence of subjective factors such as prior beliefs about performance. In upcoming projects, I'll try to formally establish this fundamental explanation of under- and overconfidence using a combination of behavioural and neuroimaging methods. When I'm not working, you can find me in the kitchen, out with friends, painting (or at least, trying to), or reading a book.

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Lab Alumni

Ivan Ivanchei

Eliane Deschrijver

Luc Vermeylen

Mehdi Senoussi

Nicola Vasta

Judith Goris