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BMFT project Complex problem solving

Title of the joint proposal

Complex problem solving as a mediator between basic cognition and real-world functioning


The core theme of the present research project is the relationship between basic cognitive processes, performance on complex cognitive tasks and real-world functioning. Basic cognitive processes examined in the laboratory are often not easy to relate to real-life situations, both in investigations of healthy individuals and in the clinical context. Research on complex problem solving was originally started to address precisely this gap between “the narrow straits of the laboratory and the deep blue sea of field research” (Funke, 2001). In the proposed research, we will use the construct 'complex problem solving' as a mediator between basic cognition and real-world functioning, and use a multi-disciplinary approach to characterize the interrelation between these three levels of analysis. To this end, tightly coordinated studies using computational modelling, neuropsychological testing, functional neuroimaging, as well as pharmacological and behavioral interventions will be conducted in the context of narrowly defined, shared behavioral paradigms.

Complex problems can be characterised by a range of features such as their large number and high connectivity of problem variables, autonomous change of these variables over time and intransparency of the problem situation (Funke, 2003). These features are similar to the demands of our everyday life, and therefore make the construct 'complex problem solving' a suitable predictor of functional capacity in everyday life. The feature most pertinent for the proposed research is polytely, the presence of multiple, possibly contradictory, goals and subgoals (Dörner, 1989). Polytely imposes a cognitive demand to select and prioritise goals and to resolve goal conflicts, and implies the existence of cognitive processes that handle these demands (henceforth subsumed under the term 'goal management'). Goal management is a central feature of successful planning and problem-solving (Dörner et al., 1983). For these reasons, the present project will focus on goal management processes and how they relate to basic cognition and real-life functional outcome.

Most cognitive neuroscientific research relevant to the present topic has been subsumed under the term executive function, a concept that has been used to address multiple levels of cognitive processes (Burgess et al., 2006; Kaiser et al., 2005). However, since the relations between different levels of cognitive processes are the very goal of the present research proposal, we will use the terms complex problem solving / goal management and basic cognition in order to explicitly address the level of the cognitive process under investigation.

Spokesperson for the collaboration

Prof. Dr. med. Matthias Weisbrod, Department of Psychiatry, SRH Klinikum Karlsbad-Langensteinbach, Guttmannstrasse 1, 76307 Karlsbad; Phone: 07202-613342 Fax: 06221-565477, Email:

Participants in the collaboration

  • Prof. Dr. rer.nat. Joachim Funke, Daniel Holt, MA, MSc, Department of Psychology, University of Heidelberg (in collaboration with Dr. Ing. Leon Urbas, Center for Human-Machine-Interaction, TU Berlin)

  • Dr. rer. nat. Christian Fiebach, Cognitive Neurology, Neurological University Hospital Heidelberg

  • Dr. med. Daniela Roesch-Ely, Dr. med. Stefan Kaiser, Section Experimental Psychopathology, Psychiatric University Hospital Heidelberg

  • Prof. Dr. med. Matthias Weisbrod, Department of Psychiatry, SRH Klinikum Karlsbad-Langensteinbach, and: Section Experimental Psychopathology, Psychiatric University Hospital Heidelberg

    Teilprojekt 1 „Statistical and Computational Modelling”

    Im Teilprojekt 1 „Statistical and Computational Modelling” (Prof. Joachim Funke, Psychologie) geht es um eine Mehrebenenanalyse von Planungs- und Problemlöse-Kompetenzen auf der kognitiven, neurologischen und funktionalen Ebene. Dies beinhaltet einerseits die Entwicklung eines statistischen Strukturmodells auf der Basis empirischer Daten aus anderen Teilprojekten, andererseits die kognitive Modellierung der diesen Daten zugrunde liegenden Verarbeitungsprozesse.

    Teilprojekt 2 „Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Goal Management“

    Im Teilprojekt 2 „Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Goal Management“ (Dr. Christian Fiebach, Klinik für Neurologie und Psychologisches Institut) werden neuronale Mechanismen der Repräsentation und Organisation von verhaltensrelevanten Zielen an gesunden ProbandInnen mittels der funktionellen Magnetresonanztomographie (fMRT) untersucht. Im weiteren Verlauf sind auch Untersuchungen an Patienten mit fokalen Hirnschädigungen geplant.

    Teilprojekt 3

    In Teilprojekt 3 (Prof. Matthias Weisbrod) geht es um eine klinische Studie, in der das Planungs- und Problemlösetraining Plan-a-Day bei schizophrenen Patienten eingesetzt wird. Die Studie wird am SRH Klinikum Langensteinbach in Zusammenarbeit mit der psychiatrischen Universitätsklinik Heidelberg durchgeführt. Dabei wird untersucht, wie sich ein solches Training auf kognitive Leistungen, aber auch die Bewältigung komplexer Aufgaben in einer Arbeitsumgebung auswirkt. Mittels EEG werden die neuronalen Korrelate der Trainingseffekte abgebildet.

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    Last modified on 21.09.2006 by JF.