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Basic research

Translational mental health strategy

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As cognitive dysfunction and abberances in motivated behaviour are common problems especially in serious and complex mental illness, in the MH-TRN we thus identified and assembled the brightest minds to jointly focus on the investigation of optimal neuronal development and neuro-scientifically informed intervention or training with a strong emphasis on developmental cognitive neuroscience. Our entire basic research consortium consists of 10 researchers (two of which hold the prestigious Leibniz award) and their associated institutes and research groups. These researchers constitute a highly cooperative  unit, which in this form is quite unique.

Functions under study represented by the basic research group at the MH-TRN include memory, inhibition (self-control), decision making (cognitive bias), or aberrant information processing and behaviour under fear/ stress. In addition, the group represents birth-cohort and immunological, as well as environmental factors expertise concerning effects of these factors on the development of the nervous system. A unique feature of our team is that neuro-scientific insights from patient and non-patient samples are translated to inspire or develop innovative training interventions, or improve existing ones, to optimally foster neuroplasticity (i.e. adaptive changes of the nervous system across all ages). For example, we use gamified Virtual Reality (VR) applications for individuals with schizophrenia, PC-based or smartphone-/ tablet games to enhance spatial navigation and other cognitive skills in the elderly, or video-game-based training of impulse control (e.g. to reduce addictive behaviour). 

Neuroscience strongly depends upon optimal measurement and models to quantify aberrance or change (over time) in relevant systems. Hence the MH-TRN also assembles a unique methodological and multimethod neuroimaging task force in order to validly and reliably quantify change and to be able to pinpoint the factors related to that change (e.g. age- or time-related vs. intervention-induced change).

We commit to the idea that has been introduced e.g. by RDoC, which we view as de-stigmatizing and helpful for bridging the gap between the social sciences with neuroscience. Fundamental dimensions of human behaviour, and underlying biological systems, are viewed as a continuum, with extreme expressions (i.e. mental illness symptoms) originating from sub-optimal developmental conditions (e.g. environmental influences) or experiences (e.g. trauma/ adversity). In our view, a multi-perspective and multi-dimensional approach that also considers the subjective perception, narrative, or interpretation of symptoms by the affected individual, is a promising path to reconcile different approaches in psychiatry. This is why basic researchers from the MH-TRN commit to consulting the local peer advisory board (i.e. service users with own experience of mental illness who function as research advisors; EmPeeRie).