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


Plasticity Group
© Max-Planck-Institut fuer Bildungsforschung

Previous Projects

Simone Kühn was the main principal investigator of this project from 2013 to 2016. She now leads the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Institute.

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

Butler, O., Herr, K., Willmund, G., Gallinat, J., Zimmermann, P., & Kühn, S. (2018). Neural correlates of response bias: Larger hippocampal volume correlates with symptom aggravation in combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 279, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2018.06.010

Butler, O., Willmund, G., Gleich, T., Gallinat, J., Kühn, S., & Zimmermann, P. (2018). Hippocampal gray matter increases following multimodal psychological treatment for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Brain and Behavior, 8: e00956. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.956

Butler, O., Yang, X. F., Laube, C., Kühn, S., & Immordino-Yang, M. H. (2018). Community violence exposure correlates with smaller gray matter volume and lower IQ in urban adolescents. Human Brain Mapping, 39, 2088–2097. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23988

Düzel, S., Drewelies, J., Kühn, S., Gerstorf, D., & Lindenberger, U. (2018). Facets of subjective health horizons are differentially linked to brain volume. GeroPsych, 31, 127–136. https://doi.org/10.1024/1662-9647/a000191

Karch, J. D., Filevich, E., Wenger, E., Lisofsky, N., Becker, M., Butler, O., Mårtensson, J., Lindenberger, U., Brandmaier, A. M., & Kühn, S. (2019). Identifying predictors of within-person variance in MRI-based brain volume estimates. NeuroImage. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.05.030

Lindenberger, U. (2018). Plasticity beyond early development: Hypotheses and questions. In A. A. Benasich & U. Ribary (Eds.), Emergent brain dynamics: Prebirth to adolescence (pp. 207–223). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Selmeczy, D., Fandakova, Y., Grimm, K. J., Bunge, S. A., & Ghetti, S. (2018). Longitudinal trajectories of hippocampal and prefrontal contributions to episodic retrieval: Effects of age and puberty. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2018.10.003

Tendolkar, I., Mårtensson, J., Kühn, S., Klumpers, F., & Fernandez, G. (2018). Physical neglect during childhood alters white matter connectivity in healthy young males. Human Brain Mapping, 39, 1283–1290. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23916



Cover Trends in Cognitive Science
© Elsevier

Wenger, E., Brozzoli, C., Lindenberger, U., & Lövdén, M. (2017). Expansion and renormalization of human brain structure during skill acquisition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21, 930–939. https://doi.org/ 10.1016/j.tics.2017.09.008

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