SCHUCK LAB


We are a cognitive neuroscience lab that studies how our brain allows us to learn, remember and to make good decisions. The lab is located at the University of Hamburg, at the Institute of Psychology. The lab is funded by the Excellence Strategy, the European Research Council and the German Research Foundation . Below you can find more information about us and what we do.




News

Feb
2024
New Paper: Reduction of aversive learning rates in Pavlovian conditioning by angiotensin II antagonist losartan: a randomised controlled trial by Ondrej, Judith Appel, Corinna Klinge, Lorika Shkreli, Michael Browning, Katja Wiech and Andrea Reinecke was published on Biological Psychiatry.
Jan
2024
New Preprint: An inductive bias for slowly changing features in human reinforcement learning by Noa, Eric Schulz, Sam and Nico was published on bioRxiv.
Dec
2023
New Paper: Respiration modulates sleep oscillations and memory reactivation in humans by Thomas Schreiner, Marit, Tobias Staudigl and Bernhard Staresina was published on Nature Communications.
Sep
2023
New Paper: Better late than never: sleep still supports memory consolidation after prolonged periods of wakefulness by Marit, Ondrej, Bernhard Staresina and Scott Cairney was published in Learning Memory.
Sep
2023
New Paper: Goal-seeking compresses neural codes for space in the human hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex by Paul Muhle-Karbe, Hannah Sheahan, Giovanni Pezzulo, Hugo Spiers, Samson Chien, Nico and Christopher Summerfield was published in Neuron.
Sep
2023
New Paper: The dorsomedial prefrontal cortex represents subjective value across effort-based and risky decision-making by Yuan-Wei Yao, Kun-Ru Song, Nico, Xin Li, Xiao-Yi Fang, Jin-Tao Zhang, Hauke Heekeren and Rasmus Bruckner was published in NeuroImage.
Sep
2023
We are happy to welcome Alexa Ruel as a Postdoc at UHH!
July
2023
New Paper: Trait anxiety is associated with hidden state inference during aversive reversal learning by Ondrej, Katja Wiech, Andrea Reinecke, Michael Browning and Nico was published in Nature Communications.
May
2023
New Paper: Task state representations in vmPFC mediate relevant and irrelevant value signals and their behavioral influence by Nir, Mona Garvert, Hauke Heekeren and Nico was published in Nature Communications.
May
2023
New Preprint: Reduction of aversive learning rates in Pavlovian conditioning by angiotensin II antagonist losartan by Ondrej, Judith Appel, Corinna Klinge, Lorika Shkreli, Michael Browning, Katja Wiech and Andrea Reinecke was published on PsyArXiv.
May
2023
New Preprint: The relationship between latent state inference and (intolerance of) uncertainty by Ondrej was published on PsyArXiv.
Apr
2023
New Paper: Hippocampal spatio-predictive cognitive maps adaptively guide reward generalization by Mona Garvert, Tankred Saanum, Eric Schulz, Nico and Christian Doeller was published in Nature Neuroscience.
Mar
2023
New Paper: Neural and psychophysiological markers of intolerance of uncertainty by Jayne Morriss, Rany Abend, Ondrej, Daniel Bradford and Gaëtan Mertens was published in International Journal of Psychophysiology.

Research

Whenever we play chess, plan a vacation, or cook a meal, we are using past experience to inform our decisions. Our research group seeks to understand how the brain can generate such flexible behavior by extracting and reusing information from memory to predict future outcomes. To do so, we conduct behavioral and neuroimaging studies and employ machine learning algorithms and computational models of reinforcement learning. Specifically, these are our key research areas:

Orbitofrontal cortex and the representation of task states

Predictions derived from reinforcement learning theory regarding prediction error and value signals have found much support in neuroscientific data. But what about the elusive state representations that are necessary for reinforcement learning algorithms? Is there a neural counterpart of these states? Our lab investigates the nature and potential neural basis of these task state representations, see for instance Schuck et al., 2016, Neuron or Schuck et al., 2017.

The role of hippocampal replay in decision making

Fast sequences of neural activation patterns in the hippocampus have been linked to the 'replay' of previous spatial experiences. We investigate how such fast neural events can be detected with fMRI in humans and what their role is in decision making and creating a cognitive map of the current task, see Schuck & Niv, 2019, Science, Wittkuhn & Schuck, 2021, Nature Communications and Wittkuhn, Chien, Hall-McMaster & Schuck, 2021, Neuroscience and Behavioural Reviews.

Influence of task irrelevant information on decision making

When we make a decision, we really should only focus on the few aspects that seem relevant. But we often fail to do that, for better or worse (getting distracted vs. thinking outside the box). Our lab therefore investigates the effects of task irrelevant information in decision making, see Schuck et al., 2015, Neuron and Schuck et al., 2022, PLoS ONE.

How aging, genes and disease affect (spatial) memory & learning

Age and DNA have widespread effects on our brain as well as our cognitive abilities. Our lab investigates specific links between changes in neural representations associated with age and genotype, and cognitive changes. For instance, in Schuck et al., 2015, NeuroImage, we have investigated how well spatial boundaries are represented in the brain and how spatial navigation is related to this neural function. In Koch et al., 2020, Neuropsychologia and Koch et al., 2022, NeuroImage we compared older and younger adults to see how precise the aging brain can processes walking direction. In other papers we have investigated how genetic factors and disease influence our memory, see Schuck et al., 2018, Neurobiology of Aging and Thurm et al., 2016, Neurobiology of Aging.

Recent Publication Highlights

Team

The Team
Nico

Nicolas Schuck

PI

Nico wants to understand the neural mechanisms of learning and decision making, and tries to lift these secrets using brain imaging techniques in humans. He studied psychology at Humboldt University, later had an affair with Machine Learning at University of Toronto, and did his PhD on cognitive brain aging at the MPI for Human Development. After a postdoc at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, he started his own research group at MPI Berlin. Outside of the lab he is devoted to his family, running, the sun, good company, and the hope that humans will not destroy the planet earth.
Shany

Shany Grossman

Postdoc

Shany is interested in understanding how task representations are formed in the brain while learning a new task, and how can they be repurposed for solving new tasks. To do so, she uses fMRI, behavioral measurements and neural networks simulations. She completed her PhD at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, studying the visual system using fMRI and iEEG. She is deeply in love with her son Leo, loves running and spending time with family and friends.
Ondrej

Ondrej Zika

Postdoc

Ondrej is interested in the neural representation of uncertainty and the role of anxiety in aversive learning. Before his PhD in Oxford he studied Psychology and Marketing where he worked as an RA in the O'Doherty lab at Caltech and later in the Bishop lab at Oxford. He is a fan of linux and ice hockey, likes to cycle, code and drink coffee.
Marit

Marit Petzka

Postdoc

Marit is interested in understanding the brain mechanisms underlying sleep-dependent memory consolidation. What happens in the sleeping brain when newly made experiences become long lasting memories? During her PhD at the University of Birmingham, she has started to address this question and follows up on it now by investigating replay during sleep using fMRI and electrophysiology. Apart from science, she enjoys electronic music, bouldering, and everything that involves wind and a kite.
Xiangjuan

Xiangjuan Ren

Postdoc

Xiangjuan (祥娟) is eager to understand how the human brain enables learning, represents abstract concepts, and uses what it has learned to make subsequent decisions. To address these questions, she combines neuroimaging and computational modeling. She got her PhD degree and first training of postdoc in Peking University. Now she will open a new scientific journey to study the age-related effects on the occurrence and distribution of replay. Outside the lab, she likes drawing pencil sketch, theatre, stroll and absence of mind.
Lennart

Lennart Wittkuhn

Postdoc

Lennart studied Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience in Dresden. During his PhD he investigates hippocampal replay in humans using fMRI and tools that make science better. Outside the lab he enjoys city cycling, bagel baking and doodle drawing.
Alexa

Alexa Ruel

Postdoc

Alexa’s research revolves around understanding how the brain creates and maintains abstract representations of cognitive and decision-making tasks and why these abilities change during healthy aging. She did her PhD at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada where she began to examine these research questions using EEG and computational modeling. Moving forward, Alexa is eager to apply fMRI and combined approaches to examine human representational abilities. Outside the lab, you can find her at the nearest yoga studio, reading a book in the park or baking for family and friends.
Anika

Anika Löwe

PhD Student

Anika is interested in learning, insight moments and replay in humans as well as machines. Before joining the lab as a PhD student, she studied Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience. She spends about 80% of her awake time listening to music, loves art and overcaffeinating.
Nir

Nir Moneta

PhD Student

Nir is interested in the representations of values and value-based decisions in the brain, mainly using human fMRI. Before his PhD he studied Psychology in Israel and Cognitive Neuroscience in Berlin. On an ongoing search for non-scientific hobbies, suggestions are welcome!
Fabian

Fabian Renz

PhD Student (co-supervised by Christian Döller at MPI CBS)

Fabian’s interests center around replay, representations (what they are and how they come about?), and the overarching question how cognition and the brain relate to one another. Before joining the group as a PhD student, he studied psychology and cognitive science. Outside the lab he can be found on a basketball court or the ever ongoing search for delicious food and the perfect cup of coffee.
Noa

Noa Louise Hedrich

PhD Student

Before joining the lab as an ECN PhD student, Noa completed her Masters in Neuroscience at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain. Her interests lie in how artificial and biological neural systems can inform each other about learning and decision-making. Away from her laptop she can mostly be found tap dancing, reading or enjoying a nice cup of tea.
Luianta

Luianta Verra

PhD Student

Before joining the lab as a LIFE doctoral fellow, Luianta did her Masters in Psychology at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, focusing on Neurocognitive Psychology. She is interested in memory and sleep and loves hiking, nature and good design.
Konrad

Konrad Pagenstedt

Research Assistant

Konrad works as a student assistant and tutor at Universität Hamburg. He is also studying Psychology (B.Sc) there. He is interested in reproducible research, football and skateboarding.
Christine

Christine Manor

Administrative Assistant

Christine enjoys to add structure to her work environment. Outside of the lab, she loves getting inspired by various DIY projects and discovering the beauty of different art forms. She finds joy in baking oriental treats and is always looking for time to lose herself in a good book.
Pablo

Pablo

Lab Dog

Pablo is very interested in positive reinforcement and tries to get a hang of how to reduce uncertainty when searching for treats. He mainly does this in a sleep context. Reach out for collaborations, he is always happy to distract you while working.

Alumni


Postdocs

Samson Chien (now Data Scientist)
Karolina Finc (Visiting Postdoc, now Assistant Professor at University of Torun)
Sam Hall-McMaster (now Postdoc at the Gershman lab, Harvard University)

PhDs

Christoph Koch (now Data Scientist)
Lennart Wittkuhn (now Postdoc at University of Hamburg)

Students and Research Assistants

Moritz Bammel (now doing Masters in Philosophy at FU Berlin)
Sudeshna Bora (now Software Engineer)
Lydia Brundisch (now doing PhD with Markus Werkle-Bergner at MPIB)
Neele Elbersgerd (finishing Master thesis while doing a semester abroad at the University of Sydney)
Lena Krippner (now doing teaching level Masters in Physics and Philosophy)
Amanda Meira Lins (now doing Master thesis at Learning Lab at FU Berlin)
Leonardo Pettini (now doing PhD with Christian Doeller and John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck School of Cognition)
Marta Radzikowska (Research Intern from University of Amsterdam)
Verena Sarrazin (now Postdoctoral Research Assistant at University of Oxford)
Lion Schulz (now doing PhD with Peter Dayan at MPI for Biological Cybernetics)
Maria Tzegka (now doing her Masters thesis at Humboldt University)
Kateryna Yasynska (now Psychologist)

Join

General information

The Schuck Lab is strongly committed to creating an inclusive work environment by promoting equity and diversity. Our goal is to provide equal opportunities for all - regardless of race, ethnicity and national origin, gender and gender identity, sexuality, class and religion - but not limited to those categories. We therefore actively welcome applications from diverse backgrounds and we value the richness that diversity brings to the scientific community.

We currently have no open positions for interns. If you are a postdoc with relevant information on cognitive neuroscience who is interested in joining the lab, get in touch with Nico. The lab has hosted several postdocs funded through stipends or fellowships and we are always open to such applications. Graduate students, please see below.

Graduate Programs

Nico is an adjunct fellow of the Max Planck School of Cognition and a faculty member of the Hamburg Brain School. Please speak to Nico if you want to join the lab funded through the Max Planck School or any other mechanism.

Contact

Mechanisms of Learning and Change Research Group
c/o Nicolas Schuck
Institute of Psychology
Universität Hamburg
Von-Melle-Park 5
D-20146 Hamburg, Germany
Visit our UHH website

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