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Research Research School of Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences Facilities


In our research programme, which can be categorized as applied research based on fundamental theories, with a strong neuromechanical background, we try to answer the question how can we improve human performance in daily living by using a research and rehabilitation environment that can be manipulated with advanced virtual reality (VR) techniques.

CAREN (Computer Assisted Rehabilitation ENvironment) is a versatile, multi sensory VR system for diagnostic, rehabilitation, evaluation and registration of the human balance system. The system works in real-time and enables the creation of a variety of experiments in a controlled and repeatable environment by using different virtual reality principals. CAREN enables researchers to analyze balance behaviour, latency, response times and the relations between different sensory inputs that affect human decision protocols, human balance, posture and locomotion behaviours.

Our theoretical framework is based on a combination of Discovery Learning, Embodied Cognition, the Mirror Neuron system, and Fear Avoidance model with external focus. The main idea is that subjects (re-)learn to interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, limited or facilitated by the characteristics of their own body, based on manipulated information. Virtual Reality techniques can be used to manipulate the information and therefore facilitate the learning process in both virtual environments and real environments. External focus in an immersive environment draws away the attention from inner body problems, enabling the learning of new movement strategies.

Discovery learning takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his own experience and prior knowledge and is a method of instruction through which subjects interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments.

In the Embodied Cognition theory, the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. Aspects of cognition, such as ideas, thoughts, concepts and categories are shaped by aspects of the body. These aspects include the perceptual system, the intuitions that underlie the ability to move, activities and interactions with our environment and the naive understanding of the world that is built into the body and the brain.

The Mirror Neuron system provides the physiological mechanism for the perception action coupling (common coding theory). These mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Researchers speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to theory of mind skills.

The Fear Avoidance model is based on the concept that the way pain is interpreted leads to functional recovery or to catastrophically (mis)interpretation. In exposure in vivo, which is based on Pavlovian conditioning, patients' catastrophic expectations are being challenged and disconfirmed. Directing the performers' attention to the effects of their movements (external focus), in contrast to attention to the movement itself (internal focus), contributes to recovery.

The framework provides us with information and ideas that contribute to (re-)learning.

Although the tool that we are using for our research (CAREN) is an expensive tool, spinoffs products (Nintendo WII) will make it possible for other parties to use our evidence based programmes and ideas for their projects.

Our main subject groups are subjects with knee instability (ACL, TKR), CVA or low back pain. These groups are strongly related to Healthy Ageing, one of the main themes of the University Medical Centre Groningen.

Postal address:
University of Groningen  / UMCG,
Center for Human Movement Sciences
Antonius Deusinglaan 1
9713 AV Groningen, the Netherlands
Phone: +31 50 363 27 19

visiting adres:
Oostersingel 65
9713 EZ, Groningen
Phone:+31 50 363 74 55

Further contact:
Prof. dr. E. (Bert) Otten

H.G. (Helco) van Keeken

Last modified:25 August 2014 10.03 a.m.