Briefly presented environmental stimuli
In several studies, we examine brain activation (using functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, or near-infrared spectroscopy, NIRS, look at Methods for further information) during the presentation of environmental stimuli — such as sounds, images, videos, or smells — as well as during work on cognitive tasks before and after application of these stimuli.
Taking walks in different environments
In some studies, we ask our participants to take a longer walk in a certain environment und examine how they feel and how well they can concentrate before and after the walk. We often apply methods to assess brain functioning and brain structure as well.
Longer-term changes of habitat
In various projects, we investigate how life in extreme environments influences people. In several studies led by Alexander Stahn (University of Pennsylvania, Charité Universitätsmedizin) we examine different groups of people before and after they expose themselves to an extreme environment. In order to find out whether these massive changes of habitat affect brain plasticity, and if so, how, we use functional and structural MRI. Our focus is on the hippocampus, a brain region that is involved in processes of spatial orientation among others.
- Spending the winter in Antarctica (PI: Alexander Stahn)
Every year, nine scientists spend the winter on the Neumayer Station III of the Alfred Wegener Institute in order to perform measurements in Antarctica. The scientists are mostly self-reliant during that time. Our project focuses on the fact that spatial orientation outdoors is almost exclusively possible via instruments because the snow masses hide most landmarks in the environment. This project is funded by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR).
- Astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) (PI: Alexander Stahn)
Astronauts usually spend six months at the International Space Station ISS before they return to earth. In this project, we also perform a series of cognitive tests during the space mission.
- Human Exploration Research Analogue (HERA) isolation studies (PI: Alexander Stahn)
The NASA project HERA offers a three-story closed space in which the isolation and cramped conditions of a space station can be simulated. Preparation of space missions, working on solving problems, carrying out experiments, and simulating missions lasting between 30 and 45 days are possible.
Interiors and architecture
In this line of research, we are particularly interested in the effects of different architectural elements on people’s experience and behavior. For example, we examine the influence of angular and curved shapes, ceiling heights, or room sizes in their effects on emotions and cognition as well as underlying brain functioning.
In several larger cohort studies, we examine the link between habitat — assessed via georeferencing methods — and brain structure and functioning. Examples are the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II), the Hamburg City Health Study (HCHS), and the German National Cohort (NAKO).