IPU News

News and important information

Multitasking: A Challenge for Body and Mind

Innovatives interdisziplinäres DFG-Forschungsprojekt startet unter IPU-Beteiligung

Professor Dr. Christine Stelzel from the IPU Berlin is to assume the position of project head in the second part of the interdisciplinary project "Effects of Modality Mappings within working memory on Postural control" (MoMaP) within the scope of the German Research Foundation’s (DFG) priority programme on the subject of "multitasking".

The second part of the research project is commencing in October 2018 and combining the investigations of cognitive and motor processes with multitasking demands in a manner unique to date. Doing so, the psychologists Professor Dr. Christine Stelzel (IPU Berlin) and Professor Dr. Stephan Heinzel (FU Free University Berlin) are cooperating with the training and movement scientist Professor Dr. Urs Granacher and the social and preventative medicine practitioner Professor Dr. Michael A. Rapp (both at the University of Potsdam). The MoMaP is one of more than 20 projects on the subject of multitasking that are being supported by the DFG over a period of one to six years.

This innovative combination of the various research disciplines participating in the MoMaP project permits the interaction between brain processes to be investigated that concern movement sequences and processes on the one hand, as well as thinking, attention and concentration on the other hand. Accordingly, the focus is on the question of how the various processes in the brain determine or block themselves. "Standing in a tram and phoning with your mobile phone at the same time often proves to be a difficult task for older people," the project head Dr. Stelzel explained. And when the tram is starting or stopping, a loss of balance can then occur.

Statistics show that the frequency of falls continues to increase as we grow older. While movement can have a positive effect on our ability to think at a young age, a double burden, or dualtasking as it is termed, frequently leads to problems when we grow older. For this reason, in the first subproject, the extent to which such burdens let themselves by improved by means of targeted training was investigated.

The intention now in the second part of the project is to examine the action mechanisms which determine that multitasking proves to be more difficult for older people than for younger ones. Utilising a broad methodical spectrum, such as the application of functional magnetic resonance imaging, as well as of electroencephalography, the aim especially is to expand the understanding of the underlying neuronal mechanisms for age-related difficulties in cognitive-motor multitasking. Doing so, the investigation of the effects of cognitive versus physical tiredness should permit conclusions to be drawn about the mutual interdependence of both areas.

"In this respect, we are pursuing the hypothesis that with older people the frontal cortex is more powerfully involved in movement tasks," Dr. Stelzel said. This section of the brain is normally responsible for so-called executive cognitive skills or, in other words, for thinking, acting and deciding. With younger people, motor processes are more likely to occur automatically or on a sub-cortical level. When we grow old, the frontal brain node is then also additionally activated as a result of natural degradation processes. This could cause reciprocal disorder of motor and cognitive processes.