At the O’BRAIN Lab, we assume that indi­vid­ual weight sta­tus is the result of a com­plex inter­ac­tion of (at least) these dif­fer­ent fac­tors:

  • indi­vid­ual behav­ior (e.g. eat­ing behav­ior, deci­sion-mak­ing)
  • char­ac­ter­is­tics of the envi­ron­ment (e.g. food sup­ply, pos­si­bil­i­ties for phys­i­cal activ­i­ty)
  • indi­vid­ual pre­dis­po­si­tion (such as genet­ic sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty)

The O’BRAIN Lab’s goal is to dis­en­tan­gle these inter­ac­tions by tack­ling diverse research ques­tions. For this pur­pose we draw upon exper­tise from mul­ti­ple sci­en­tif­ic dis­ci­plines such as neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, cog­ni­tive sci­ence, math­e­mat­ics and med­i­cine. This joint effort is made pos­si­ble through gen­er­ous fund­ing for two main lines of research:

  1. Deci­sion-mak­ing in Obe­si­ty: Neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy, Behav­ior, and Plas­tic­i­ty, a research group with­in the Inte­grat­ed Research and Treat­ment Cen­ter (IFB) Adi­pos­i­ty­Dis­eases

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The goal of this research group is to under­stand mal­adap­tive deci­­sion-mak­ing in obe­si­ty.
Deci­­sion-mak­ing depends cru­cial­ly on learned, part­ly auto­mat­ic asso­ci­a­tions between stim­uli and their out­comes, the val­u­a­tion of choice options, as well as the flex­i­bil­i­ty to adapt behav­ior to cur­rent needs and goals. We inves­ti­gate dif­fer­ences between groups of lean and obese indi­vid­u­als in sev­er­al sub-process­es of deci­­sion-mak­ing. The group main­ly uses cog­ni­tive tasks com­bined with func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI) to inves­ti­gate behav­ior, brain struc­ture and func­tion. Addi­tion­al­ly, we use spe­cif­ic olfac­to­ry and gus­ta­to­ry stim­u­la­tion, and record­ing of eye move­ments. In addi­tion we exam­ine the influ­ence of mod­u­lat­ing fac­tors such as moti­va­tion, stress, gen­der, home­o­sta­t­ic state, geno­type and per­son­al­i­ty traits. Based on the obtained results, inter­ven­tion stud­ies are planned that we hope will either alter the brain’s endoge­nous poten­tial for neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty or tar­get exoge­nous fac­tors that ren­der deci­­sion-mak­ing in obe­si­ty dis­ad­van­ta­geous.

  1. Neu­rocog­ni­tive Mod­els of Behav­ioral Con­trol in Obe­si­ty – The mod­u­lat­ing effects of dynam­ic changes in cen­tral dopamin­er­gic tone, a sub­pro­ject of the Col­lab­o­ra­tive Research Cen­tre (SFB) 1052 “Obe­si­ty Mech­a­nisms”

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The goal of this project is to under­stand the inter­ac­tion of dietary com­po­si­tion, alter­ations with­in the dopamin­er­gic sys­tem, and the devel­op­ment of obe­si­ty.
The neu­ro­trans­mit­ter dopamine plays a cen­tral role in sev­er­al cog­ni­tive key domains such as (food) moti­va­tion, rein­force­ment learn­ing, and mem­o­ry. Ani­mal research sug­gests that dietary intake of fat and sug­ar impacts on the dopamin­er­gic sys­tem. Our recent results point towards (a) promi­nent alter­ations in these domains in over­weight and obe­si­ty and (b) a non-lin­ear rela­tion­ship between mark­ers of obe­si­ty and the cen­tral ner­vous trans­mis­sion effi­ca­cy of dopamine. With­in this project, we aim to elu­ci­date the indi­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tion of these fac­tors and their effect on brain func­tion and behav­ior. We will test the effects of phar­ma­co­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion to cen­tral dopamin­er­gic trans­mis­sion in human obe­si­ty uti­liz­ing behav­ioral test­ing, func­tion­al mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (fMRI), and neu­rocog­ni­tive mod­el­ing, the lat­ter pro­vid­ing a direct link of behav­ioral and neur­al effects on the indi­vid­ual lev­el. Fur­ther, we will inves­ti­gate the inter­ac­tion of ‘nat­ur­al’, i.e. genet­ic, mod­u­la­tors of DA trans­mis­sion with obe­si­­ty- and diet-asso­­ci­at­ed alter­ations in dif­fer­ent brain regions. The results will pro­vide the basis for an extend­ed under­stand­ing of obe­si­ty and the devel­op­ment of nov­el ther­a­pies.


Math­ar, D., Neu­mann, J., Vill­ringer, A., & Horstmann, A. (2017). Fail­ing to learn from neg­a­tive pre­dic­tion errors: Obe­si­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with alter­ations in a fun­da­men­tal neur­al learn­ing mech­a­nism. Cor­tex, 95, 222–237. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.08.022

Horstmann, A. (2017). It was­nt me; it was my brain – Obe­si­ty-asso­ci­at­ed char­ac­ter­is­tics of brain cir­cuits gov­ern­ing deci­sion-mak­ing. Phys­i­ol­o­gy & Behav­ior, 176, 125–133. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.04.001

Math­ar, D., Wilkin­son, L., Holl, A. K., Neu­mann, J., Deser­no, L., Vill­ringer, A., … Horstmann, A. (2017). The role of dopamine in pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive pre­dic­tion error uti­liza­tion dur­ing inci­den­tal learn­ing – Insights from Positron Emis­sion Tomog­ra­phy, Parkin­sons dis­ease and Hunt­ing­tons dis­ease. Cor­tex, 90, 149–162. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2016.09.004

Diet­rich, A., Holl­mann, M., Math­ar, D., Vill­ringer, A., & Horstmann, A. (2016). Brain reg­u­la­tion of food crav­ing: rela­tion­ships with weight sta­tus and eat­ing behav­ior. Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Obe­si­ty, 40(6), 982–989. doi:10.1038/ijo.2016.28

Horstmann, A., Fenske, W. K., & Han­kir, M. K. (2015). Argu­ment for a non-lin­ear rela­tion­ship between sever­i­ty of human obe­si­ty and dopamin­er­gic tone. Obe­si­ty Reviews, 16(10), 821–830. doi:10.1111/obr.12303

Horstmann, A., Diet­rich, A., Math­ar, D., Pös­sel, M., Vill­ringer, A., & Neu­mann, J. (2015). Slave to habit? Obe­si­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with decreased behav­iour­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty to reward deval­u­a­tion. Appetite, 87, 175–183. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.12.212

Horstmann, A., Busse, F. P., Math­ar, D., Müller, K., Lep­sien, J., Schlögl, H., … Pleger, B. (2011). Obe­si­ty-Relat­ed Dif­fer­ences between Women and Men in Brain Struc­ture and Goal-Direct­ed Behav­ior. Fron­tiers in Human Neu­ro­science, 5. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2011.00058

Holl­mann, M., Hell­rung, L., Pleger, B., Schlögl, H., Kabisch, S., Stumvoll, M., … Horstmann, A. (2011). Neur­al cor­re­lates of the voli­tion­al reg­u­la­tion of the desire for food. Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Obe­si­ty, 36(5), 648–655. doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.125

Math­ar, D., Neu­mann, J., Vill­ringer, A., & Horstmann, A. (2017). Fail­ing to learn from neg­a­tive pre­dic­tion errors: Obe­si­ty is asso­ci­at­ed with alter­ations in a fun­da­men­tal neur­al learn­ing mech­a­nism. Cor­tex, 95, 222–237. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2017.08.022

Meemken, M.-T., Kube, J., Wick­n­er, C., & Horstmann, A. (2018). Keep­ing track of promised rewards: Obe­si­ty pre­dicts enhanced flex­i­bil­i­ty when learn­ing from obser­va­tion. Appetite, 131, 117–124. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.08.029.


Mehl, N., Morys, F., Vill­ringer, A., & Horstmann, A. (2019). Unhealthy yet avoid­able: How cog­ni­tive bias mod­i­fi­ca­tion alters behav­ioral and brain respons­es to food cues in indi­vid­u­als with obe­si­ty. Nutri­ents, 11(4): 874. doi:10.3390/nu11040874.

Janssen, L., Her­zog, N., Walt­mann, M., Breuer, N., Wiencke, K., Rausch, F., et al. (2019). Lost in trans­la­tion?: On the need for con­ver­gence in ani­mal and human stud­ies on the role of dopamine in diet-induced obe­si­ty. Cur­rent Addic­tion Reports, 6(3), 229–257. doi:10.1007/s40429-019–00268-w.

Fromm, S. P., & Horstmann, A. (2019). Psy­cho­me­t­ric eval­u­a­tion of the Ger­man ver­sion of the dietary fat and free sug­ar-short ques­tion­naire. Obe­si­ty Facts: The Euro­pean Jour­nal of Obe­si­ty, 12(5), 518–528. doi:10.1159/000501969.



Since the O’BRAIN Lab is embed­ded in Leipzig’s Max Planck Insti­tute for Human Cog­ni­tion & Brain Sci­ence we’re ful­ly equipped – addi­tion­al­ly to our own resources – on a vari­ety of method­olog­i­cal devices.

With the help of MRI the O’BRAIN Lab aims to go one step fur­ther and explore neur­al cor­re­lates of these obe­si­ty-relat­ed behav­ioral dif­fer­ences. All MRI-tech­niques use strong but harm­less mag­net­ic fields to image the human brain. Stud­ies of the O’BRAIN Lab make use of MR-scan­ners at mag­net­ic field strengths of 3 Tes­la and 7 Tes­la.

In basic terms, eye track­ing is the mea­sure­ment of eye activ­i­ty. An eye track­er is a device that uses pro­jec­tion pat­terns and opti­cal sen­sors to gath­er data about eye posi­tion, gaze direc­tion or eye move­ments. It is a tech­nique com­mon­ly used in var­i­ous fields of research, includ­ing psy­chol­o­gy, biol­o­gy, neu­rol­o­gy and med­i­cine.

Depend­ing on the nature of the exper­i­ment, our lab pro­vides a vari­ety of resources to col­lect data; some infor­ma­tion about your per­son you can enter your­self via ques­tion­naires on the com­put­er. Your data is secure­ly stored on the servers of the Max Planck Insti­tute.

Oth­er sen­so­ry method­olog­i­cal resources are our mul­ti­stim­u­la­tor, that encap­su­lates an olfac­tome­ter and a gus­tome­ter. These two devices allow the inclu­sion of per­cep­tu­al expe­ri­ences like smell and taste into exper­i­men­tal set­tings. A hand clench dynamome­ter is an iso­met­ric hand grip device that pro­vides direct read­ing of clench force in kg.


Name Depart­ment Insti­tu­tion City Coun­try
Yvonne Böttch­er Depart­ment of Clin­i­cal Mol­e­c­u­lar Biol­o­gy Uni­ver­si­ty of Oslo Oslo Nor­way
Kai von Klitz­ing, Sarah Bergmann // Annette Klein Adipöse Eltern – adipöse Kinder IFB Adi­pos­i­ty­Dis­eases Leipzig Ger­many
Stef­fi Riedel-Heller Insti­tute of Social Med­i­cine, Occu­pa­tion­al Health and Pub­lic Health IFB Adi­pos­i­ty­Dis­eases Leipzig Ger­many
Peter Kovacs Insti­tut für Sozialmedi­zin, Arbeitsmedi­zin und Pub­lic Health IFB Adi­pos­i­ty and dia­betes genet­ics Leipzig Ger­many
Arno Vill­ringer Neu­rol­o­gy Max Planck Insti­tute for Human Cog­ni­tive and Brain Sci­ences Leipzig Ger­many
Daniel S. Mar­gulies Max Planck Research Group for Neu­roanato­my & Con­nec­tiv­i­ty Max Planck Insti­tute for Human Cog­ni­tive and Brain Sci­ences Leipzig Ger­many
Jes­si­ca Frei­herr Klinik für Diag­nos­tis­che und Inter­ven­tionelle Neu­ro­ra­di­olo­gie RWTH Aachen Aachen Ger­many
Sanne De Wit Fac­ul­ty of Social and Behav­iour­al Sci­ences Uni­ver­si­ty of Ams­ter­dam Ams­ter­dam Nether­lands
Carme Jun­qué // María Ánge­les Jura­do // Maite Garol­era Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try and Clin­i­cal Psy­chobi­ol­o­gy Uni­ver­si­ty of Barcelona Barcelona Spain
Ste­fan Bode Mel­bourne School of Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ences Uni­ver­si­ty of Mel­bourne Mel­bourne Aus­tralia
Vadim Nikulin Neu­rol­o­gy Max Planck Insti­tute for Human Cog­ni­tive and Brain Sci­ences Leipzig Ger­many
Han­neke Den Ouden Don­ders Insti­tute for Brain, Cog­ni­tion and Behav­iour Nijmegen Nether­lands
Roshan Cools Don­ders Insti­tute for Brain, Cog­ni­tion and Behav­iour Nijmegen Nether­lands
Lorenz Deser­no Depart­ment of Child and Ado­les­cent Psy­chi­a­try, Psy­chother­a­py and Psy­cho­so­mat­ics Uni­ver­si­ty of Leipzig Leipzig Ger­many
Wiebke Fenske Neu­roen­docrine Obe­si­ty Research IFB Adi­pos­i­ty­Dis­eases Leipzig Ger­many