Getting to Know a Lab: Johannes Hewig, University of Würzburg
Johannes Hewig first became interested in psychophysiology in 1998 while working as an undergraduate researcher for Ewald Naumann and Dirk Hagemann at the University of Trier (where he also completed his Ph.D.). “One of my main interests back then and now is human decision-making and individual differences,” he says. “Why does one person like certain things and will invest a lot of effort whereas someone else is not interested at all? I thought and still think that psychophysiology is a promising tool to answer these kinds of questions.”
In pursuit of these questions, Hewig uses a wide array of physiological measures, including fMRI, and EEG/ERP, to ask questions about “decision-making in economic contexts and its psychophysiological underpinnings,” (research which is supported by the Volkswagen Foundation through 2016). His current line of research has focused on the use of computerized blackjack simulations to explore neural indices of reward responsivity and risk. A recent study in problem gamblers, for example, demonstrated that gamblers may show larger reward-related neural activity than non-gambling controls, which may be related to making more risky decisions within the game. Likewise, a blackjack study conducted in the scanner explored the neural correlates of both overly risky and overly conservative decisions in an unselected sample.
A relatively recent academic appointment, Hewig is now working on establishing his lab in Würzburg, and will likely be accepting graduate students this coming fall: “I try to foster a cooperative atmosphere, which in my view is a necessary precondition for a productive and effective lab,” he says. “I attempt to follow a goal-oriented leadership approach, which I think is the best to motivate people at a lab and this hopefully leads to productivity and effectiveness.” As his lab grows, and the science progresses, Hewig looks forward to increasingly sophisticated psychophysiological measures. “I guess the combination of psychophysiological methods will grow in importance and a network-based understanding of brain processes will advance,” he says. As for future technological developments which he eagerly anticipates, Hewig—like any psychophysiologist who has found him or herself covered in saline gel—dreams of the development of an electrode cap “which is attached to the head without any additional preparation and which nonetheless provides excellent data quality.”