Research Group Neurocognitive Development

Our vision is to enhance understanding of cognitive development. We study the development of attention, auditory perception, learning and memory. We are particularly interested in the development of underlying neuronal mechanisms in childhood. This work focuses on a systematic analysis of the developmental pathway from early to late childhood and the influence of relevant factors such as motivation, emotion, and of digital media use. Furthermore, we investigate attention and perception mechanism in atypically developing children. We aim to foster the translation of our findings into clinical and educational applications.

  • News


    The impact of emotional sounds on attentional orienting in children was demonstrated by Carolina Bonmassar. In her first PhD project she also observed a similar pattern of novel-related pupil dilation and brain responses that is in line with recent theories emphasizing the role of the Locus Coeruleus in attention processes and adds a developmental perspective. (Bonmassar, Widmann, & Wetzel (in press), Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience)


    Pupil size can predict learning success
    During memorization of pictures, changes in pupil diameter can predict later successful recognition in children aged 8-9 and adults. During retrieval, novel pictures showed stronger pupil constriction than familiar pictures. Wetzel, Einhäuser & Widmann, JECP


    New German-French project on attention development funded by DFG and ANR
    Nicole Wetzel und Aurelie Bidet-Caulet (INSERM Lyon) will gain knowledge about the development of auditory attention and its underlying neuronal mechanisms throughout childhood. The project „Control of attention in children: Interaction of voluntary and involuntary attention“ is funded by the DFG and ANR in the program Franco-German Call in Humanities and Social Sciences“ (WE5026/4).


    Attention control considerably develops throughout early childhood
    new study  demonstrates considerable development of attention control throughout early childhood. Wetzel, Scharf & Widmann, Child Development

  • Head


    Nicole Wetzel's research interests are the development of cognitive functions, in particular the development of attention processes as well as the development of the underlying neuronal mechanisms.

    Nicole Wetzel is a member of the Leibniz Education Research Network (LERN).

  • Members


    Prof. Dr. Nicole
    Dr. Elena
    PhD students  
    Lab Manager  
    Lab Assistent  
    Gabriele Schö
    Celine Jakel  
    Luisa Kocherscheid  
    Lisa Pietschmann  


  • Projects


    How does attentional control develop during childhood?

    In this area of research, we look at the involuntary distraction of attention as well as the underlying neuronal mechanisms. Our results show that these processes continue to develop right into late childhood and beyond. In comparison to adults, children are more sensitive to salient, emotional and meaningful distractors. We have also found that children are less successful in controlling their attention than adults. The results of these research findings can be used for educational purposes (e.g. designing an optimal learning environment) as well as in a clinical context (e.g. attention disorders).


    How do children notice unpredictable changes in their environment?

    Here we investigate how unpredictable changes in the auditory environment are perceived and noticed, even if our attention has been directed elsewhere. The underlying change detection processes are already present in an unborn baby, but these processes continue to develop into the teenage years and beyond. This particular data on development can be used to look at the perceptual processes of children with developmental disorders (e.g. autism or reading- and writing disorders).


    How do learning processes develop?

    This project investigates the connection between cognitive processes during learning and the success of this learning. We use pupillometry to look at early perceptual- and memory processes during active learning and we compare these results with the later learning achievement. The goal is to identify the underlying neuronal mechanisms and their development. This knowledge could contribute to designing learning material more appropriately.


    Do children with social anxiety process social and emotional stimuli differently to children without social anxiety?

    In this project we investigate the perception of social and emotional stimuli as well as the attentional processes related to shy children or to social anxiety in children.


    How do the attentional processes function in ADHD?

    In this joint research project with the University Clinic of Leipzig for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, we analyze the attentional processes of patients suffering from ADHD. We are interested in how patients process novel events.

  • Third Party Funds

    Third Party Funds

    DFG WE5026/4-1

    ANR - DFG Call in Humanities and Social Sciences, „Control of attention in children: Interaction of voluntary and involuntary attention“


    Leibniz Association

    Programme for Women Professors


    CBBS ZS/2016/04/78120
    Independent Research Group „Neurocognitive Development“


    DFG WE 5026/1-2
    Sachbeihilfe, "Die Verarbeitung neuer Distraktoren in Abhängigkeit von deren Informationsgehalt bei Kindern und Erwachsenen"

  • Publications



    Bonmassar, C., Widmann, A., & Wetzel, N. (in press). The impact of novelty and emotion on attention-related neuronal and pupil responses in children. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

    Male, A., O'Shea, R. P., Schröger, E., Müller, D., Roeber, U., & Widmann, A. (in press). The quest for the genuine visual mismatch negativity (vMMN): Event-related potential indications of deviance detection for low-level visual features. Psychophysiology.

    Wetzel, N., Einhäuser, W., & Widmann, A. (2020). Picture-Evoked Changes in Pupil Size Predict Learning Success in Children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 192, 104787.



    Wetzel N, Scharf F, Widmann A. 2019. Can't Ignore-Distraction by Task-Irrelevant Sounds in Early and Middle Childhood. Child Development.

    Korka B, Schröger E, Widmann A. (2019). Action-intention based and stimulus-regularity based predictions: Same or different? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 31(12), 1917-1932.

    Grzeschik R, Conroy-Dalton R, Innes A, Shanker S, Wiener JM. 2019. The contribution of visual attention and declining verbal memory abilities to age-related route learning deficits. Cognition. 187:50-61.

    Stuckenberg, M. V., Schröger, E., & Widmann, A. 2019. Presentation Probability of Visual-Auditory Pairs Modulates Visually Induced Auditory Predictions. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 31(8), 1-16.




    Erb J, Ludwig AA, Kunke D, Fuchs M, Obleser J. 2018. Temporal sensitivity measured shortly after cochlear implantation predicts six-month speech recognition outcome. Ear and Hearing.

    Widmann A, Schröger E, Wetzel N. 2018. Emotion lies in the eye of the listener: Emotional arousal to novel sounds is reflected in the sympathetic contribution to the pupil dilation response and the P3. Biological Psychology. 133:10-17.

    Wetzel N, Schröger E. 2018. Auditory attention in children and adults: A psychophysiological approach. Lachmann T, Weiss T, editors. In Invariances in Human Information Processing. New York: Taylor and Francis AS. pp. 223-248.



    Hartmeyer S, Grzeschik R, Wolbers T, Wiener JM. 2017. The effects of attentional engagement on route learning performance in a virtual environment: An aging study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 9(JUL). Available from: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00235

    Henry MJ, Herrmann B, Kunke D, Obleser J. 2017. Aging affects the balance of neural entrainment and top-down neural modulation in the listening brain. Nature Communications. 8. Available from: 10.1038/ncomms15801

    Buttelmann D, Schieler A, Wetzel N, Widmann A. 2017. Infants’ and adults’ looking behavior does not indicate perceptual distraction for constrained modelled actions − An eye-tracking study. Infant Behavior and Development. 47:103-111. Available from: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2017.04.001


    Wetzel N, Buttelmann D, Schieler A, Widmann A. 2016. Infant and adult pupil dilation in response to unexpected sounds. Developmental Psychobiology. 58(3):382-392. Available from: 10.1002/dev.21377

    Grzeschik R, Lewald J, Verhey JL, Hoffmann MB, Getzmann S. 2016. Absence of direction-specific cross-modal visual-auditory adaptation in motion-onset event-related potentials. European Journal of Neuroscience. 43(1):66-77. Available from: 10.1111/ejn.13102

    Wetzel N, Schröger E, Widmann A. 2016. Distraction by novel and pitch-deviant sounds in children. Frontiers in Psychology. 7(DEC). Available from: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01949


    Wetzel N. 2015. Effects of the short-term learned significance of task-irrelevant sounds on involuntary attention in children and adults. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 98(1):17-26. Available from: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2015.06.003

    Grzeschik R, Lübken B, Verhey JL. 2015. Comodulation masking release in an off-frequency masking paradigm. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 138(2):1194-1205. Available from: 10.1121/1.4928134

    Max C, Widmann A, Kotz SA, Schröger E, Wetzel N. 2015. Distraction by emotional sounds: Disentangling arousal benefits and orienting costs. Emotion. 15(4):428-437. Available from: 10.1037/a0039041


    Wetzel N, Schröger E. 2014. On the development of auditory distraction: A review. PsyCh Journal. 3(1):72-91. Available from: 10.1002/pchj.49

    Wetzel N. 2014. Development of control of attention from different perspectives. Frontiers in Psychology. 5(AUG). Available from: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01000


    Grzeschik R, Böckmann-Barthel M, Mühler R, Verhey JL, Hoffmann MB. 2013. Direction-specific adaptation of motion-onset auditory evoked potentials. European Journal of Neuroscience. 38(4):2557-2565. Available from: 10.1111/ejn.12264

    Wetzel N, Schröger E, Widmann A. 2013. The dissociation between the P3a event-related potential and behavioral distraction. Psychophysiology. 50(9):920-930. Available from: 10.1111/psyp.12072


    Wetzel N, Widmann A, Schröger E. 2012. Distraction and facilitation-two faces of the same coin?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 38(3):664-674. Available from: 10.1037/a0025856


    Wetzel N, Widmann A, Schröger E. 2011. Processing of novel identifiability and duration in children and adults. Biological Psychology. 86(1):39-49. Available from: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2010.10.005

    Hoffmann MB, Kaule F, Grzeschik R, Behrens-Baumann W, Wolynski B. 2011. Retinotope Kartierung des menschlichen visuellen Kortex mit funktioneller Magnetresonanztomografie Grundlagen, aktuelle Entwicklungen und Perspektiven für die Ophthalmologie. Klinische Monatsblatter fur Augenheilkunde. 228(7):613-620. Available from: 10.1055/s-0029-1245625


    Ruhnau P, Wetzel N, Widmann A, Schröger E. 2010. The modulation of auditory novelty processing by working memory load in school age children and adults: A combined behavioral and event-related potential study. BMC Neuroscience. 11. Available from: 10.1186/1471-2202-11-126

    Mikkola K, Wetzel N, Leipälä J, Serenius-Sirve S, Schröger E, Huotilainen M, Fellman V. 2010. Behavioral and evoked potential measures of distraction in 5-year-old children born preterm. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 77(1):8-12. Available from: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2010.03.009

    Bendixen A, Grimm S, Deouell LY, Wetzel N, Mädebach A, Schröger E. 2010. The time-course of auditory and visual distraction effects in a new crossmodal paradigm. Neuropsychologia. 48(7):2130-2139. Available from: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.04.004

    Grzeschik R, Böckmann-Barthel M, Mühler R, Hoffmann MB. 2010. Motion-onset auditory-evoked potentials critically depend on history. Experimental Brain Research. 203(1):159-168. Available from: 10.1007/s00221-010-2221-7

  • Teaching


    We are involved in the training of students in the degree programmes "Management of day-care centres for children - childhood education", "Applied Childhood Studies" and "Psychology of Rehabiliation" at the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences.

    Members of our group have teaching experience in these subjects:

    • Developmental Psychology 
    • Rehabilitation Psychology
    • Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy of Childhood and Adolescence
    • Educational Psychology
    • Cognitive and Biological Psychology
  • Become a test person?

    Become a test person?

    In our children's studies we examine children aged 1-18 years with different methods. We submit all studies to the responsible ethics committee for safety evaluation.


    What we measure

    Response times and hits
    When we solve a problem, we can be distracted by background noise which affects our performance. Therefore, in some studies, we measure the speed and accuracy of responses to a particular task when disruptive events occur simultaneously.

    Electroencephalography (EEG)
    We measure brain electrical activity - which is always present - with electrodes mounted on a specially made hood while the child is solving a task, watching a movie or playing. Certain patterns in brain activity allow statements to be made about cognitive processes, such as whether a person is temporarily distracted.

    Eye movements and pupil size
    Where people look, how long they look at something and how their pupil size changes can be inferred from attention and learning processes. Eye movements and pupil size are recorded with a special camera that is placed at some distance in front of the child while it is solving a problem.



    Dunja Kunke
    Tel: 0391 626 393431 (AB)

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