Professor Onur Güntürkün has headed the biopsychology research unit since 1993.
How does cognition develop in a brain so completely different from ours?
Some birds, such as crows, manage to perform similar cognitive feats to chimpanzees with much smaller and differently structured brains. How do they do it? In the ERC project “Avian Mind”, Professor Onur Güntürkün intends to find answers to this question.
To this end, he is shifting his research focus away from the analysis of individual brain regions; instead, he is adopting the view that, depending on the thought process, changing networks of the forebrain hold the key to understanding cognition. To identify these networks, he will use a method developed last year in Bochum’s biopsychology department. It involves studying pigeons in the animal magnetic resonance tomograph at the RUB Neuroscience Research Center while they solve difficult cognitive tasks. This allows networks of mental processes to be identified with high spatial resolution.
Using the same method in combination with the analysis of individual nerve cells, he then plans to understand how consciousness and intentions to act are formed in the avian brain. Further experiments will also test the hypothesis that birds form memory in a different way than we do. “These studies will open the door to understanding how a differently structured but extremely capable brain is organised,” says the researcher.