Tobias Heed, PhD

Tobias Heed
image: P. Mania

I am Full Professor of Biopsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Bielefeld University. I am fascinated by how our bodies determine our thinking. In our language, we express many complex and abstract activities with very bodily terms: I “see” your point, you can “grasp” an idea, and we try to “reach” our goals.

In my research, I start at a more basic level and ask how the brain manages seemingly simple things like perceiving touch and performing arm reaches. My aim is to tease out how such simple processes lead to much more complex phenomena like a perception of self, an understanding of space, and the ability to merge information from the different senses into an integrated whole.

A lot of my work has focused on two aspects of this fascination with the body: our sense of touch, and movements with different body parts or, as we call them, effectors.

Touch

Our sense of touch is especially important in determining who we are: after all, the skin is the border between our body and the world. But because we have very versatile bodies, the information about where our body is, and where one body part is relative to another, is constantly subject to change. For our brain to interpret touch, therefore, it must keep track of each body part’s current position and posture. Figuring out how the brain does this kept me rather busy during my PhD years (2005-2008), and it still keeps my group busy now.

Effectors

Yet, we don’t perceive things (like touch) just for their own sake. Instead, we perceive so that we can make decisions about which actions to take next. In many situations we could, in theory, use many ways to achieve our current goals.

Just think of opening your door after coming home from a shopping trip. Normally, you’ll use your dominant hand to press the door’s lever. But if you are carrying a shopping bag, you might use your other hand. Or, if you are carrying a big box with both hands, you might use your elbow, knee, or foot to open the door. How the brain is able to keep “in mind” these different options and choose between them is a second focus of my group’s work.

Bringing it together

The overarching aim of my group’s work is to connect the two topics, and to understand how the brain plans actions towards its own body when we are touched.

CV

I am Full Professor of Biopsychology & Cognitive Neuroscience at Bielefeld University.

I studied Business Administration and worked at Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany, before I studied Psychology in Marburg an der Lahn, Germany. I joined Frank Rösler‘s Psychophysiology lab as a student assistant during my studies, wrote my thesis in Brigitte Röder’s group, and followed her to Hamburg when she started her Biopsychology lab here. Parallel to my scientific work, I was responsible for Brigitte’s behavioral and EEG labs as a lab manager. I’ve spent a some time in the Netherlands for some of my collaborations. In 2012, I started my own research group in Hamburg, the Reach & Touch Lab, funded by the German Research Foundation’s Emmy Noether programme. Funding continues until 2019, and the project has moved with me when I joined Bielefeld University in September of 2016.

Personal Blog

I blog about leading a science lab at Science Lab Life. Part of the blog is an open book writing project. Read along.

Publications

See here for a full list of publications.

Contact

Room: UHG (university main building), T3-256

Mail address:
P.O.Box 10 01 31, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany

Phone: +49 (0)521 – 106 67 530
tobias.heed@uni-bielefeld.de

Twitter: @HeedLab, @TobiasHeed