The Functional Structure of Brain Asymmetries: A Unified Theory

Hemispheric asymmetries play an important role in almost all cognitive functions. Despite this tremendous relevance, our understanding of the neurobiological fundaments of lateralization is just in its infancy. In the last decade I tried to streamline my research on bird and human asymmetries such that overlapping phenomena were studied with diverse neuroscientific methods in both model systems from neuron to behavior. What is now lacking is an overarching theory that integrates the findings from diverse model systems. Such a theory has to outline the unfolding of lateralized neural activity patterns at three steps of analysis: 1) Asymmetries of encoding, where left-right differences of feature detectors of early sensory processing stages enable asymmetrical categorical identification; 2) Asymmetrical activation of early cortical areas that result in a spread of activity in associated cortical networks; 3) Lateralized action generation where only one hemisphere gains transient, but complete control of our reactions.

Project leader(s):
  • Onur Güntürkün (Faculty of Psychology, Ruhr-University Bochum)

One response to “The Functional Structure of Brain Asymmetries: A Unified Theory”

  1. George Ellis
    George Ellis on 20 March 2017 at 07:04: Reply

    Dear Onur Güntürkün

    I am a UCT emeritus professor who is now studying the brain and am very interested in your talk on Wednesday. Mightit be possible to bit? I have just completed a book with Mark Solms (who used to be a STIAS associate) to be published by Cambridge University Press as follows:

    Beyond Evolutionary Psychology: How and Why Neuropsychological Modules Arise
    George F. R. Ellis and Mark Solms

    The nature/nurture question is an age-old problem. Beyond Evolutionary Psychology deals with the relation between culture, evolution, psychology and emotion, based both in the underlying biology, determined by our evolutionary heritage, and in the interaction of our brain with the physical, ecological and social environment, based in the key property of brain plasticity. Ellis and Solms show how the brain structures that underlie cognition and behaviour relate to each other through developmental processes guided by primary emotional systems. This makes very clear which brain modules are innate or ‘hard-wired’, and which are ‘soft-wired’ or determined through environmental interactions. The key finding is that there can be no innate cognitive modules in the neocortex, as this is not possible on both developmental and genetic grounds; in particular there can be no innate language acquisition device.

    I’d be very interested to see how the same issues arise as regards birds


    George Ellis

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