Renate Maaß Research Award 2018

Prize: Awards of the University of Luebeck

General Description

Dr. phil. Sarah Jessen was awarded the Renate-Maaß Research Prize for her work on "Multisensory neuronal processing in social interaction". The laudation was held by Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Münte, Director of the Department of Neurology.

Dr. Jessen holds a doctorate in cognitive science and neuroscience. She researches how our brain manages our social life amazingly successfully from the beginning of our lives. For example, what can infants understand about other people even though they cannot yet speak? What role do different sources of information such as body language, voice, facial expressions, but also smell play in this process? And how is this information brought together in the brain?

Dr. Jessen pursues these questions primarily with the help of electroencephalography (EEG), a method that uses small sensors built into a kind of hood to measure tiny fluctuations in electrical brain activity on the surface of the head. This method is particularly well suited for infant research because the child does not feel anything from the measurement and can behave normally. For example, the infants are shown different faces on the screen. The recorded activity allows conclusions to be drawn about which areas of the brain reacted particularly strongly to which faces and how quickly a reaction occurred in the brain.
For example, Dr. Jessen and her colleagues were able to show that the brains of seven-month-old infants can distinguish between fearful and happy faces or even just pairs of eyes, even if they were only shown for 50 milliseconds, a fraction of a second. Thus, a particularly rapid response to potential warning signals, such as fearful faces, develops very early in life. At the same time, however, it does not seem to be innate, since no enhanced response was observed in a measurement with five-month-old children.

In her current research project, Dr. Jessen is investigating the role that maternal smell plays in social perception and development in the first year of life. A next step is to apply these findings to situations in which social interaction in infancy is characterized by particular challenges. For example, what goes differently for infants who are at increased risk of developing a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum? What impact can it have on infants' social brain development if one parent suffers from a mental illness?

The research award of the Renate-Maaß-Foundation is dedicated to the appreciation of brain research at the University of Luebeck and its scientists. The University awards the award annually to one scientist up to the age of 35, with an endowment of 5.000 Euros.
Degree of recognitionLocal
Granting OrganisationsRenate-Maaß-Stiftung Lübeck

Awarded at event

Event titleUniversity Awards 2018
LocationRathaus der Hansestadt Lübeck, Lübeck, GermanyShow on map
Period14.11.2018

Research Area or Academic Center

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)