Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics

Learning, perception and cognitive processes form the main research fields of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen. The scientists use experimental, theoretical and methodological approaches in their work on fundamental topics of perception. In 2003, a High-Field Magnetic Resonance Center was established at the Institute where research is carried out into the methodological expansion and application of imaging techniques. Two of the world's most powerful magnetic resonance scanners with magnetic field strengths of 9.4 and 16.4 tesla are available to assist them in their work.


Max-Planck-Ring 8
72076 Tübingen
Phone: +49 7071 601-510
Fax: +49 7071 601-520

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):
IMPRS for Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action more
Department Neurophysiology of Cognitive Processes more
Orientation without a master plan
Human spatial memory is made up of numerous individual maps more
“The cable robot opens up a whole new dimension”

Max Planck director Heinrich Bülthoff on perception research with motion simulators more
Action recognition without mirror neurons
Role of mirror neurons in social interaction not as important as previously assumed more
Optogenetics reveals new insights into circuits of the brain
Researchers show how neural wiring works in the visual system more
Friend or foe: out of the corner of your eye
Our peripheral vision is better at recognizing people than objects more
Dopamine leaves its mark in brain scans
BOLD signals in functional magnetic resonance imaging do not always reflect what nerve cells are doing more
How does the research on primates benefit humans?
There are few topics as controversial as research involving experiments on animals in general and primates in particular. more
Synchronous oscillations in the short-term memory
Scientists have decoded the functioning of the short-term memory more
Understanding the human brain

Understanding the human brain

News September 25, 2014
Functional magnetic resonance images reflect input signals of nerve cells more
The seat of consciousness

The seat of consciousness

News September 24, 2014
At least two regions of the brain decide what we perceive more
Rats have a double view of the world
Rodents move their eyes in opposite directions, thereby always keeping an eye on the airspace above them more
Neural interaction in periods of silence
Tübinger neurophysiologists develop new method to study widespread networks of neurons responsible for our memory more
Foggy perception slows us down

Foggy perception slows us down

News October 31, 2012
Max Planck scientists show that, contrarily to what was previously believed, speed is overestimated in fog more
Conscious perception is a matter of global neural networks
New findings support the view that the content of consciousness is not localised in a unique cortical area more
Max Planck scientists discover brain cells in monkeys that may be linked to self-awareness and empathy in humans more
The brain of a housefly weighs around one-thousandth of a gram. Nonetheless, thanks to this miniscule control center, the insect can evaluate images in fractions of a second and steer its way through lightning-fast flight maneuvers. It was Werner Reichardt, Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, who, more than 50 years ago, described how the motion detectors in the fly brain work.
For Valentin Braitenberg, the brain was the most interesting research subject in the world, apart from the world itself. A former Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, he spent thousands of hours poring over a microscope to get to the bottom of this most complex of organs. His purpose was to examine the fiber pathways in various areas of the brain and to search for their functions.

Robots That Learn!

MPR 2 /2010 Material & Technology
Machines are naturally dumb. They lack flexibility and the ability to react appropriately and at the right time. Scientists are trying to teach robots something akin to intelligence.
Cybernetics experts are using the world’s first omnidirectional platform to study how the brains of walkers combine hearing, seeing and feeling.
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Map brain function in vessels with a multi-modal fMRI platform

2017 Yu, Xin
Cognitive Science Neurosciences
A multi-modal fMRI platform is developed for a better understanding of the neuron-glio-vascular interaction in normal and diseased brain states of animals. Combining the single-vessel fMRI method with optogenetics and genetically encoded calcium indicators enables to identify the specific contributions of distinct vascular and cellular components to the fMRI signal. The translational application of this work is to identify vessel-specific dynamic biomarkers of patients with vascular dementia, ranging from small vessel diseases to degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. more

Understanding brain function by bridging multiple scales

2016 Besserve, Michel; Logothetis Nikos K.
Cognitive Science Neurosciences
Information processing in mammalian brains requires exceptional coordination of neural activity ranging from local groups of cells to brain wide interactions. To bridge these scales and understand brain function at the system level, we investigate the relationship between action potentials, local field potentials, and blood oxygen level dependent activity in various structures. The development of simultaneous recordings methodologies and data analysis techniques enables us to characterize the brain states associated to memory functions. more

Can you tell me how to reach my goal? Social and spatial cognition in interaction

2015 de la Rosa, Stephan; Meilinger, Tobias
Cognitive Science Neurosciences
In everyday life knowledge about space and the social behavior of others interact, for example, when asking someone for route directions. Prior research mainly considered these processes as separate from each other. Tobias Meilinger and Stephan de la Rosa together with their research group from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics examine social and spatial cognition and their interactions in order to better understand everyday human behavior. more

Magnetic resonance imaging at ultra-high fields

2014 Buckenmaier, Kai; Gunamony, Shajan; Chadzynski, Grzegorz; Hoffmann, Jens; Pohmann, Rolf; Scheffler, Klaus
Cognitive Science Neurosciences
To improve the spatial resolution and the speed for generating images in magnetic resonance examinations, there is a strong trend to go to higher magnetic field strengths in order to improve the detected signal, causing new technological challenges to emerge. An example is the development of new radiofrequency coil designs. First novel coils are already being used for clinical studies on cancer in the human brain at 9.4 Tesla. Magnetic resonance spectra were obtained from healthy and cancerous regions in the brain. The comparison of the spectra show great potential for medical diagnostics. more

How memory is built during sleep

2013 Eschenko, Oxana
Cognitive Science Neurosciences

A new method allows gaining insights into the widespread network activity of the brain. The method combines electrophysiological recordings from multi-contact electrodes with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the entire brain. The methodology was applied to identify the brain areas that consistently increased or decreased their activity in relationship to hippocampal episodic memory related events, known as ripples. The findings provide new insights into the system mechanisms of memory consolidation, which can be studied in more detail in the future.


Human-Robot Interaction by Shared Autonomy

2012 Robuffo Giordano, Paolo
Cognitive Science Computer Science
Robots acquire information from the environment, process it and then use it to autonomously perform tasks. A big challenge is to have robots and humans cooperate effectively in our every day’s life. To realize this vision the role of humans must be taken into account. Robot design and control must be conceived to meet the human needs and facilitate the interaction. Our research efforts are guided by these principles and aimed at realizing semi-autonomous robotic systems able to perform local tasks – supervised by a human – on their own in a so-called shared control scenario. more
Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses the properties of nuclei inside a strong magnetic field. These fields reach strengths of 9.4 Tesla for applications in humans, and more than 20 T for animals. This is due to the increase in signal strength and, correspondingly, in spatial resolution, to the availability of novel contrast mechanisms, and to the more accurate quantification of metabolite concentrations in MR-spectroscopy. Due to the drastically altered physical properties at ultra high field, realizing the full potential of this technology requires the development of novel imaging techniques. more

Smart contrast agents for functional magnetic resonance imaging

2010 Angelovski, Goran
Cognitive Science Neurosciences
Modern medical diagnostics and brain research would be unthinkable without magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In addition to traditional imaging, which reveals anatomical structures, functional MRI (fMRI) has become a valuable tool. It comes close to allowing us to watch the brain at work and has contributed considerably to the advances in human cognitive neuroscience. However, fMRI is an indirect method, as it measures a surrogate signal, based on hemodynamics. Smart contrast agents (SCAs) shall overcome this limitation and allow a direct access to neuronal activity. more

Interdisciplinary Research in Perception

2009 Wallraven, Christian; Bülthoff, Heinrich H.
Cognitive Science Computer Science
How do we recognize objects? How do we interpret facial expressions? Can we teach computers to see and understand? In this article, we present several research areas of the department "Human Perception, Cognition and Action" of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. The department employs methods from computer vision, computer graphics, and psychophysics in order to understand fundamental processes in perception and cognition. more

How do neurons collectively process visual information?

2008 Bethge, Matthias
Mathematics Neurosciences
Knowledge about neural signaling originates from experiments where the activity of a neuron is correlated with stimuli. Meanwhile, simultaneous recording from many neurons is possible. With new mathematical methods such experiments can be used to determine the response properties of neural networks rather than of individual cells. This allows us to analyze how retinal images are processed collectively by neural networks in the visual pathway. more
In the last two decades, the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) substantially contributed to the progress of human cognitive neuroscience. Because fMRI assesses neuronal activity indirectly, only limited causal statements about brain processes can be made. In the following, it is shown exemplarily by combining fMRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) how this limitation can be overcome. Thus, multimodal brain imaging methods offer new opportunities for the exploration of the human brain. more

Where our brain integrates what’s heard and felt

2006 Logothetis, Nikos
Cognitive Science Neurosciences
New results demonstrate that those regions of the brain uniquely devoted to the processing of a single sense are rarer than classically thought. Instead, most of the brain is concerned with merging information across senses and creating a coherent percept. more

Human Multisensory Perception

2005 Ernst, Marc O.; Bülthoff, Heinrich H.
Cognitive Science
For perceiving the environment our brain uses multiple sources of sensory information derived from several different modalities, including vision, touch and audition. Some sources of sensory information derived from different modalities provide information about the same object property or event. For example, the size of an object can both be seen with the eyes and felt with the hands. This is called redundant sources of sensory information. In this report we will show how such redundant sources of sensory information are used by the human brain in order to interact with the environment in a purposive fashion. Further, we describe which role prior knowledge plays concerning the statistical regularities in the world and how this can affect the process of perception. As a model for describing such somatosensory interactions we apply the Bayesian Decision Theory (BDT). more

Statistical Learning Theorie and Empirical Inference

2004 Schölkopf, Bernhard
Complex Systems Computer Science Mathematics
Statistical learning theory studies the process of inferring regularities from empirical data. The fundamental problem is what is called generalization: how it is possible to infer a law which will be valid for an infinite number of future observations, given only a finite amount of data? This problem hinges upon fundamental issues of statistics and science in general, such as the problems of complexity of explanations, a priori knowledge, and representation of data. more
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