Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Life Sciences - Department of Psychology



More than ten years after the publication of the book “Neuropsychotherapie” by Klaus Grawe, the attraction and relevance of neuroscience as an approach to understand the mechanisms of action underlying psychotherapy has evolved dramatically.

Psychotherapy initiates a new learning process – also on the level of the brain: the ability of the human brain for neuroplastic changes is a core prerequisite for behavioral change. In our research group we adopt this neuroscientific perspective to investigate the mechanisms of action underlying successful behavioral changes through psychotherapy.

What happens in the brain when we experience anxiety? How does psychotherapy change the brain? Can we optimize our psychotherapeutic techniques by better understanding the mechanisms at the level of the brain?

These and other exciting questions are the focus of our research. Our approach follows a bio-behavioral, basic science perspective. We use experimental paradigms that have high translational potential for psychotherapy research, e.g., on emotional-associative learning. Our range of methods includes imaging techniques (magnetic resonance imaging), which we combine in a multimodal approach with peripheral physiological (heart rate, respiration, skin conductance), neuroendocrine (salivary cortisol) and (epi)genetic data. We use multivariate machine learning pattern recognition methods to generate predictive markers for individual patients. Our focus is to better understand the biopsychological and neuroscientific basis of normal and pathological forms of anxiety such as panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder or specific phobias and their treatment using exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Main research interests:

  • Biopsychological and neuroscientific basis of anxiety disorders
  • Biomarkers of therapeutic success: single case prediction using machine learning
  • Neuroplastic changes induced by psychotherapy
  • Neural mechanisms of fear conditioning and extinction

Head of group:

Professorin Dr. rer. nat. Ulrike Lüken, PhD