Mechanisms and Sequential Progression of Plasticity

Tree with brain root, brainstorming concept
© istock-proksima

Our project addresses the questions of whether and how plasticity contributes to development across the lifespan. Special attention is given to the relationship between neural and behavioral manifestations of plasticity. The human brain has a significant capacity to adapt to changing environmental demands by altering its function and structure (see Lövdén, Wenger, Mårtensson, Lindenberger, & Bäckman, 2013). The central goals of this project are to delineate the mechanisms and sequential progression of behavioral and neural plasticity across the lifespan. The guiding propositions of the project are based on the assumption that plasticity is induced by a mismatch between environmental demands and individuals’ current behavioral and neural resources (cf. Kühn & Lindenberger, 2016). The project is interested in plastic changes across the lifespan, induced by mismatches in either direction: it examines situations in which current demands exceed supply (e. g., cognitive interventions) as well as situations in which supply exceeds current demands (e. g., sensory deprivation). Cognitive interventions via training studies targeting specific brain regions and circuits that hypothetically support particular skills are central to the project’s research agenda. Since the mechanisms of change and the sequential progression of plasticity are largely unknown, our main goal is to fill this research lacuna.

Plasticity Across the Lifespan

Großvater mit Kind
© rastlily - stock.adobe.com

Plasticity in Children

Plasticity in Adults


LIP Gruppe Plasticity
© MPI fuer Bildungsforschung

Previous Projects

Simone Kühn was the main principal investigator of this project from 2013 to 2016. She currently holds a Heisenberg-Professorship at the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf.

See Previous Research Topics for information on studies during that period.


3-Tesla-Tomograf | Das MRT-Labor im MPI fuer Bildungsforschung
© MPI fuer Bildungsforschung

The 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development

More information about the MRI Lab can be found here.

Recent Publications

Wenger, E., Brozzoli, C., Lindenberger, U., & Lövdén, M. (in press). Expansion and renormalization of human brain structure during skill acquisition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Butler, O., Adolf, J., Gleich, T., Willmund, G., Zimmermann, P., Lindenberger, U., ... Kühn, S. (2017). Military deployment correlates with smaller prefrontal gray matter volume and psychological symptoms in a subclinical population. Translational Psychiatry, 7: e1031. doi: 10.1038/tp.2016.288

Filevich, E., Lisofsky, N., Becker, M., Butler, O., Lochstet, M., Mårtensson, J., Wenger, E., Lindenberger, U., & Kühn, S. (2017). Day2day: Investigating daily variability of magnetic resonance imaging measures over half a year. BMC Neuroscience, 18: 65. doi: 10.1186/s12868-017-0383-y

Kühn, S., Lorenz, R. C., Weichenberger, M., Becker, M., Haesner, M., O'Sullivan, J., ... Brandhorst, S. (2017). Taking control! Structural and behavioural plasticity in response to game-based inhibition training in older adults. NeuroImage, 156, 199–206. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.05.026

Pannunzi, M., ... Wenger, E., Lisofsky, N., Martensson, J., Butler, O., Filevich, E., ... Lindenberger, U., Kühn, S., & Deco, G. (2017). Resting-state fMRI correlations: From link-wise unreliability to whole brain stability. NeuroImage, 157, 250–262. doi: 10.1101/081976


Yana Fandakova
Ulman Lindenberger

Elisabeth Wenger

Simone Kühn (adjunct researcher)

Maike Kleemeyer (postdoctoral fellow)

Oisin Butler
Neda Khosravani (predoctoral fellows)

Ludmila Müller (research coordinator

Kirsten Becker
Anke Klingebiel (research assistants)


Elisa Filevich, Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience
Nina Lisofsky, Agaplesion Diakonieklinikum Rotenburg
Martin Lövdén, Karolinska Institutet
Johan Mårtensson, Lund University

Key References

Fandakova, Y., Selmeczy, D., Leckey, S., Grimm, K. J., Wendelken, C., Bunge, S. A., & Ghetti, S. (2017). Changes in ventromedial prefrontal and insular cortex support the development of metamemory from childhood into adolescence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114, 7582–7587. doi: 10.1073/pnas. 1703079114

Kühn, S., & Lindenberger, U. (2016). Research on human plasticity in adulthood: A lifespan agenda. In K. W. Schaie & S. L. Willis (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of aging (8th ed., pp. 105-123). Amsterdam: Academic Press. doi: 10.1016/B978-0- 12-411469-2.00006-6

Lindenberger, U., Wenger, E., & Lövdén, M. (2017). Towards a stronger science of human plasticity. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18, 261–262. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2017.44

Lövdén, M., Bäckman, L., Lindenberger, U., Schaefer, S., & Schmiedek, F. (2010). A theoretical framework for the study of adult cognitive plasticity. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 659–676. doi: 10.1037/a0020080

Lövdén, M., Wenger, E., Mårtensson, J., Lindenberger, U., & Bäckman, L. (2013). Structural brain plasticity in adult learning and development. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37, 2296–2310. doi: 10.1016/ j.neubiorev.2013.02.014

Wenger, E., Kühn, S., Verrel, J., Mårtensson, J., Bodammer, N. C., Lindenberger, U., & Lövdén, M. (2017). Repeated structural imaging reveals non-linear progression of experience-dependent volume changes in human motor cortex. Cerebral Cortex, 27, 2911–2925. doi: 10.1093/cercor/ bhw141

Berlin Aging Study II

A subsample of participants in the Berlin Aging Study II is being examined with MRI to collect data on the structure of the brain and its age-associated changes.

Further information on this study can be found on the BASE-II website: www.base2.mpg.de

Logo BASE II | Berli Aging Study II