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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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Judith Goris

Postdoc

As an experimental psychologist, I am intrigued by autism spectrum disorder, and specifically interested in recent accounts that propose autism can be understood from a predictive coding perspective. In an attempt to contribute to the research field on autism and ultimately the well-being of autistic individuals, I am investigating expectations and surprise responses in adults with and without autism. To this end, I use neural and behavioral measures in a variety of fields such as auditory perception, reinforcement learning and affective preferences for predictability. I am currently working together with Senne Braem and Roeljan Wiersema at Ghent University as part of the EXPLORA research group. Before, I did my PhD in Marcel Brass' lab and worked as a visiting researcher with Juanita Todd & Bryan Paton (University of Newcastle, Australia). Outside of neuroscience, I also like to dance, play the fiddle and spend time with friends in nature.

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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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Ivan Ivanchei

Postdoc

For me, the most interesting question of psychology is conscious experience and its role in regulating human behaviour. During my PhD in St. Petersburg University, I studied implicit learning trying to understand how conscious processes affect it. Then I did my postdoc in Moscow (RANEPA), working mostly on the metacognition and affect in learning and problem-solving. Currently, I’m working at UGent with Wim Notebaert and Senne Braem studying the role of affect in cognitive control. Apart from science, I like sports (playing basketball and watching football) and learning about different cultures through travel, movies, books, and languages.

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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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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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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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Fien Goetmaeckers

PhD Student

In search for rewards in vast decision spaces, different exploration strategies can be employed to guide us. Similar to ongoing research on the context-specificity of cognitive flexibility, my PhD project tests how we learn to use contextual cues to decide which exploration strategy to apply. Together with Senne Braem and Tom Verguts, we aim to extend computational models of reinforcement learning and test these with behavioural experiments. Before starting my PhD, I obtained a Master degree in Physics and Astronomy 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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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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Luc Vermeylen

PhD Student

I obtained my Masters in Experimental Psychology at Ghent University, after which I started my PhD supervised by Wim Notebaert and Senne Braem and supported by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), also at Ghent University. In my current project, I am investigating the affective nature of cognitive control processes: events which require the employment of cognitive control are experienced as unpleasant and are preferentially avoided. More specifically, I am interested in how this affective value of control relates to changes in performance when we have to control our behavior for extended periods of time. For this work, I am using behavioral, modeling (drift-diffusion), psychophysiological (pupillometry/EEG/fEMG) and neuroimaging (fMRI) techniques. Besides research, I like being in nature, noodling on my guitar and riding my skateboard.

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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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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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Sarah Van Cakenbergh

Internship Student

I am currently doing my Masters in Experimental Psychology at Ghent University and aspire to be a researcher after completing it. Personal experience with people with autism spectrum disorder has sparked a fascination that only grew deeper when I started studying psychology. This is why I applied for an internship concerning cognitive flexibility in autism and here I am. In my free time, I like to read, listen to music, and cruise around on my longboard. I also enjoy meditating and spending time with friends.

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