Press release | ERC Synergy Grant: How does playing influence learning?

Researchers from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Geneva will study the effects of play on the learning processes inside the brain. The project BrainPlay has been awarded an ERC Synergy Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) amounting to €9.8 million Euros over a duration of six years. Robert Gütig, BIH Professor in Mathematical Modeling of Neural Learning, is responsible for one of four component projects, addressing a new theory pertaining to neural mechanisms involved in self-teaching.

The interdisciplinary BrainPlay research team strives to advance our understanding at the neurobiological level of the brain mechanisms involved in learning. Broad in scope, and with a clear focus on learning through play, BrainPlay represents a comprehensive study of the mechanisms of learning, ranging from the cellular level to overall cognitive performance.We know very little about what happens inside the human brain during play, or how the brain state of ‘play’ may affect learning,” explains Prof. Dr. Robert Gütig, Professor in Mathematical Modeling of Neural Learning at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the BIH. A theoretical neuroscientist, Prof. Gütig is responsible for one of BrainPlay’s four component projects. His project addresses a new theory pertaining to neural mechanisms involved in self-teaching.

A second BrainPlay project, also hosted at Charité, is led by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schmitz, Director of the Neuroscience Research Center and Spokesperson for the NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence. Prof. Schmitz’s BrainPlay project will address the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying synaptic changes that take place inside the brain during self-teaching. “We would like to know more about the way in which our brain can teach itself new knowledge and skills, i.e. how our brains are capable of autodidactic learning,” says Prof. Schmitz. Charité will receive approximately €4.8 million in funding to host these two BrainPlay projects.

ERC Synergy Grants

ERC Synergy Grants provide support to teams comprising between two and four outstanding researchers. Grants are intended to promote projects likely to produce innovative breakthroughs at the boundaries between traditional disciplines, and capable of substantially advancing the frontiers of knowledge. Applications must be able to demonstrate that the proposed research can only be carried out through the collaboration of multiple researchers. Project grants can be up to a total of €10 million and are awarded for a period of six years. Out of a total of 295 applications reviewed this year, 27 (9%) were awarded funding.