Researcher biography

I am a cognitive neuroscientist with passion in (1) understanding brain mechanisms involved in high cognitive functions such as memory and social cognitive function and (2) investigating the changes in those functions in aging and disease. Currently I am leading the following projects:

Social cognition in epilepsy: Social cognition broadly refers to the processing of social information. Recent research has shown that people with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (mTLE) exhibit social and cognitive impairments. These deficits in social cognitive functioning are postulated to contribute to patients’ difficulties in interpersonal relationships, employability, quality of life and psychosocial well-being. Therefore, it is very important to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the social cognitive changes in epilepsy and the biomarkers that can predict these changes. Thus, the aim of this project is to investigate the underlying structural and functional biomarkers of social cognitive dysfunctions in epilepsy. Currently we are recruiting patients with frontal, medial temporal lobe, and generalized epilepsy patients and running a comprehensive assessment of various aspects of social cognition.

Memory and aging: Mounting evidence has shown that the hippocampus, primary region in memory and learning, is the first region that is affected by the normal aging and atrophy of the brain. Furthermore, given the plasticity of the brain, we know that the dogma of aging brain is no longer acceptable. It has been shown repeatedly that stem cells in human brain can generate new neurons, knowns as neurogenesis, if triggered properly. One method is through exercise. In our team we are investigating the mechanisms through which exercise influence changes in structure and function of the brain. We particularly interested in the memory function and hippocampus. Therefore, I designed a memory task that relies on the function of hippcaompus and we are investigating whether different levels of exercise, high, medium, and low intensity, will have any impact on the function and connection of the hippocampus with the rest of the brain. In this project, we are looking at number of imaging modalities including resting state and structural segmentation of the hippocampus. Additionally, we have collected blood samples from our participants to measure growth hormone, and BDNF. Number of exercise and fitness measures such as VO2 max and DEXTER are also included in this project.

Logical reasoning and its changes in aging: Logical reasoning is a fundamental ability that drives successes in various daily situations, including social interactions, decision making processes, and various cognitive functions. One of the dominant theories known as “dual-system” posits that there are two systems governing our reasoning processes, namely Type 1 and Type 2 systems. The Type 1 (also called heuristic) system is a non-conscious, rapid, automatic, and high capacity system while the Type 2 (also called analytic) system is a conscious, slow, and deliberative system. Through number of experiments we have shown that there are age-related differences in the way that older adults reason and inhibit their intuitive responses. We have also investigated the role of hippocampus in the process of logical reasoning and interaction with belief system for the first time. Currently, we are investigating the role of inhibitory functions and working memory loads in logical reasoning among younger and older adults to ultimately design an intervention for improving reasoning and controlling the belief biases.

If you are interested to join any of the projects mentioned above and get involved in the research, please contact me on my email: Maryam.ziaei@cai.uq.edu.au