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From thought to action: Leibniz Science Campus established in Göttingen

28.11.2014 - (idw) Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung

A Leibniz Science Campus Primate Cognition" will be established in Göttingen. On November 28, the Senate of the Leibniz Association has approved the necessary funding: For the next four years 900,000 Euros will be given annually to the research consortium. The founding members are the German Primate Center (DPZ), the University of Göttingen and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (BCCN). In interdisciplinary projects, the scientists want to explore the cognitive abilities of monkeys and humans. The intensive cooperation should create a permanent, international competence network in this area of research. With the Leibniz Science Campus we would like to create a platform for interdisciplinary research in Göttingen, says Julia Fischer, head of the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the DPZ and spokesperson for the Science Campus. We want to especially strengthen cooperation within the field of primate cognition research, encourage young researchers and support new projects."

23 Göttingen behavioral biology, neuroscience and psychology researchers have already confirmed their participation. The official start will be on January 1st, 2015. The Science Campus is headed by a board, composed of two representatives of the DPZ and Göttingen University, respectively, as well as one representative of the BCCN. Besides Julia Fischer, the DPZ director Stefan Treue will represent the German Primate Center on this board. Together, the Leibniz Association, Göttingen University and the DPZ will each contribute one third of the budget.

Within multidisciplinary projects, the scientists will compare the mental abilities of human and non-human primates. This includes the complex processes of information intake, processing and turning the information into actions, as well as communication in monkeys and humans. "Above all, we are interested in the influence of social relationships on various thought processes and the resulting behavior," explains Julia Fischer. "The role of social cognition is therefore one of our main topics."

Research and international cooperation

In three thematically related clusters, the scientists focus on different questions: How are different sources of information processed and how do these affect the decision-making processes? What is the role of social cognition in the communication of monkeys and humans? What makes social cognition so special?

Two scientists, one from the DPZ and the other from the University of Göttingen, coordinate each cluster. Hansjörg Scherberger, head of the Neurobiology Laboratory, Claudia Fichtel senior scientist in the Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit as well as Igor Kagan who is a junior research group leader in the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory will act as coordinators for the German Primate Center.

"We would also like to intensify international cooperation within the science campus", says Julia Fischer. A regular exchange through workshops and colloquia will take place, but also programs such as visits to other institutes and inviting guest scientists to Göttingen.

A special cooperation in the form of a study community for humanities and social science disciplines is planned with the Lichtenberg-Kolleg of the University of Göttingen. In order to strengthen the dialogue between the humanities and natural sciences, a group of young scientists who deal with philosophical aspects of cognitive research and reflect ethical questions will meet regularly in seminars.

"The successful acquisition of the science campus funding would not have been possible without the long-standing and excellent cooperation of university and non-university institutes within the Göttingen Campus," Stefan Treue summarizes. "We hope that in the long run we can build Göttingen into an international beacon in the field of primate cognition research."

The cooperation model of science campus

The Leibniz Science Campus model is a research initiative of the Leibniz Association and particularly aims to strengthen the cooperation of German university and non-university research institutions within different cities with strong research institutions. The partners involved work on scientific questions within clearly defined topics and complement each other in their competence and perspectives. The aim of the science campi is the further development of research areas at the respective institutions, the strengthening of the research landscape and to increase the international visibility. The first Leibniz Science Campus was established in 2009 in Tübingen.

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