Braiiiinssss: neuroscientist Jens Foell joins Real Scientists

In his own words, Jens Foell (@fMRI_guy) is a neuropsych postdoc researching phantom limb pain, psychopathy, & brain stuff in general. We assume that the general brain stuff will become more specific during Jens’ week as curator of Real Scientists. He continues his story below:

I had several of these “OMG epiphany” moments: after high school, I realized that I wanted to be a psychologist all along. After getting my degree, I suddenly realized that I wanted to go into science all along. From then it was a lucky coincidence that I found a PhD position that was perfect for me: using fMRI to study phantom limb pain in Mannheim, Germany

Neuropsych in general and fMRI in particular is a great opportunity to connect psychology up to other scientific fields: for fMRI, you’ll need to know a little bit of physics/engineering plus a little bit of programming — other neuropsychs use strictly biological methods and animal models and so on. But it always has the same goal: understanding how and why we think, feel, and perceive things. I guess all scientists want to understand how the world works – for me, it’s particularly finding out how it works that this ball of oatmeal in our skulls harbors everything that we know and think about the world.

In terms of methods, I use neuroimaging, EEG, behavioral tests and questionnaires. But in terms of topics, I’m a bit more spread out: I did my PhD on studying phantom limb pain, and with that came investigations into prostheses, chronic pain, and (weirdly enough) whether a patient after amputation would dream themselves as amputated or intact. However, I was always interested in forensics and criminal psych. I am currently studying concepts like fear and disinhibition (failure to inhibit your own behavior) in the context of criminal behavior and psychopathy. This, again, leads to other interesting avenues, including a recently finished book chapter on necrophilia that will be published next year. Always something new to do…

I think some of the things I’ve mentioned are inherently interesting to the general population — psychopathy for example: are they really the way that TV depicts them? Are they all serial killers? Even if not, what does it mean to go through life without a sense of empathy for others? Phantom limbs are a similar phenomenon: what does it mean to feel a limb that isn’t there? What are the mechanisms behind it? And how can people say the phantom hurts, when the pain receptors have been gone for decades? These are questions that don’t necessarily relate to everyday experiences, but they still tell us a lot about how the brain works and why we function the way we do (or don’t).

Unfortunately the most interesting extracurricular thing I do is one that I can’t publicly talk about yet.

Apart from the usual geeky hobbies that people have, what might be interesting for RS is that I’m a big fan of reading sci / pop sci books on topics that don’t directly relate to my field. I’ve read everything from viruses/parasites, military strategy, bargaining, cheating at things, paleontology, cryptozoology, and also general science. As a curator I’d like to encourage the readers to share the best science books they’ve read that are unrelated to their field (and, if so desired, I can point out some interesting authors and books myself)

In my time off, I’m a huge fan of going to the movies. I’ve had birthdays where I went two see two new movies on the same day, going out for burgers in between. That’s always a good day off :)
Also, living in Florida and having a little daughter, you’ll find me in Disney World more often than not. So let’s say the ideal day involves a lot of movies, board games with friends, and family time at Disney.


Please welcome Jens Foell to Real Scientists!

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