József Topál

Contacts

Phone: +36 1 382 6810
Institute: Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology
Group: Psychobiology Research Group
Office: D4.05A

Curriculum vitae

Personal

  •             Name: József Topál
  •             Date and Place of Birth: October 18, 1964, Budapest, Hungary
  •             Nationality: Hungarian
  •             Languages Spoken: Hungarian (native), English (fair) German (some)

Affiliation:

  • 2014-present Head of Psychobiology Research Group, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (academic rank: Scientific advisor)
  • 2008-2013: Head of Comparative Behavioral Research Group, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology, Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (academic rank: Associate professor)
  • 2007-2008: Deptartment of Developmental Psychology, Institute of Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (academic rank: Associate professor)
  • 1999-2006: Comparative Ethology Research Group, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (academic rank: Associate professor)
  • 1997-1999: Deptartment of Ethology, Eötvös University (Research fellow)
  • 1992-1996: Research Group for Behavioral and Evolutionary Modelling, Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Research fellow)
  • 1989-1992: Hungarian Academy of Sciences (PhD scholarschip)

Education:

  • DSc (in Psychology, Hung. Acad. Sci) Thesis: Comparative social cognition: The dog as a model for understanding human social behaviour (2014)
  • PhD (biology/animal behaviour; Loránd Eötvös University) Thesis: The role of mental construction int he learning proceses of animals (2000)
  • MSc (biology, Loránd Eötvös University) Thesis: The ontogenesis and parental behaviour of paradise fish (1989)

Memberships:

  • 2011 Hungarian Psychological Society, full member
  • 2010- International Organization of Psychophysiology, full member
  • 2006- Assistance Dogs Hungary,(Chair of trustee board)
  • 1996- Dogs for Humans Foundation, (Chair of trustee board)
  • 1991- Hungarian Ethological Society, founder member

Awards:

  • 2017:  Kardos Lajos Award (for outstanding research, Hungarian Psychological Association)
  • 2004: Frank A. Beach Comparative Psychology Award (American Psychological Association, best paper in 2004)
  • 2001: Frank A. Beach Comparative Psychology Award (American Psychological Association, best paper in 2001)
  • 1989: National Student Conference in Animal Behaviour II. place

Research grants:

  • NKFIH (2018-2020) A new translational approach to study the neurocognitive bases of autism. 37.000.000 HUF (principal investigator)
  • Richter Gedeon Nyrt (2016-2018) Teh dog as a model for autism spectrum disorder 12.000.000 HUF (principal investigator)
  • BIAL Foundation Portugal (2016-2018) The Potential Effect of Behavioral Stimulation on Social Competence in Dogs (via Endogenous Oxytocin Release) 41.500 EU (co-PI)
  • NESTLE PURINA (2016-2017) Age-related cognitive changes in dogs: a non-invasive investigation of behavioral and electrophysiological markers. 24.000 USD (co-PI)
  • NKFIH (2015-2018) K1121385 Comparative investigation of the social-cognitive mechanisms in dogs and humans: an innovative methodological approach 25.590.000 HUF (principal investigator)
  • MTA PD 2014-2017 (Turcsán Borbála) 16.665.000 HUF (supervisor)
  • MTA FIKU 2015-2018 (Kiss Orsolya) 7.980.000 HUF (supervisor)
  • OTKA (2012-2014) K100695 Neurohormonal aspects of social sensitivity in dogs and humans: the role of oxytocin 20.120.000 HUF  (principal investigator)
  • OTKA (2008-2011) K76043 Interpretation of conventional actions and the mechanisms of human culturural knowledge transfer in 3.5 and 5 years of age. 22.854.000 HUF (principal investigator)
  • Bolyai János Research Fellowship (2007-2009) Social learning and natural pedagogy: the dog as a model. 2.807.000 HUF
  • EU NEST-6 programme (2005-2007) SAP5100041413. On modelling the evolution of social cognition. 199.479 EU (participant)
  • OTKA (2005-2008) T049615 Understanding human personality: the dog as a model. 8.400.000 HUF (participant)
  • MTA 031/01 (2003-2006) Comparative social cognition. 27.296.000 HUF (participant)
  • Ministry of National Health (2000-2002) 261/2000 Social learning processes in dogs. 3.000.000 HUF (participant)
  • MTA F226/98, (1999-2002): Social cognition in dogs 15.800.000 HUF (participant)
  • OTKA (2003-2006) T043763 The dog as a model for human personality 6.400.000 HUF (participant)
  • OTKA (1999-2002) T029705, Social intelligence in dogs 6.912.000 HUF (participant)
  • ÖMA Research Fellowship (1997), Univ. Salzburg, Austria (600.000 HUF)

Publications:

  • Cumulative impact factor: approx. 280
  • Independent citations: approx. 3700
  • Hirsch index: 36
  • Conference presentations: approx. 150 (60 national, 90 international)

 

Educational activity

Tutoring/Supervising:

  • 32 undergradate students , BSc/MSc thesis
  • 9 PhD studens (3 candidates, 6 had already earned a doctorate)

Teaching undergraduates:

  • Ethology (Eötvös University Budapest), Behaviour genetics (Eötvös University Budapest)
  • Cognitive ethology (Eötvos University Budapest)
  • Evolution of communication (Eötvös University Budapest)
  • Evolutionary Psychology (Eötvös University Budapest, University of Technology and Economics, Budapest)

Teaching post-graduates

  • Advances in behaviour genetics (Doctoral School of Biology Eotvos University Budapest)
  • Current advances in cognitive ethology (Doctoral School of Biology Eotvos University Budapest)
  • Comparative Psychology (Doctoral School of Psychology, University of Pécs, Doctoral School of Mental Health Sciences, Semmelweis University)
  • Evolutionary Psychology (Doctoral School of Psychology, University of Technology and Economics, Budapest)

Research topics

A new translational approach to study the neurocognitive bases of autism.

Human mental disorders present a constantly increasing social and economic burden, providing a major challenge to the scientific community to uncover the causes of these disorders. Designing relevant animal models for human mental disorders could help in many areas of research. However, such models need to show both sufficiently similar behaviours to the complex human symptoms and parallel underlying biological mechanisms.

Numerous previous studies have found evidence that dogs could be a promising model for many human mental diseases. The dog is unique among domesticated species not only because they share an evolutionary and developmental history with humans by living in and adapting to a similar social environment but also because this evolutionary adaptation caused marked changes in the dogs’ social and socio-cognitive behaviour which manifest in a complex level of behavioural similarity to humans

In line with these investigations this project aims to introduce the dog as a model for studying two core features of autism: (1) deficits in social motivation and (2) the impaired ability to disentangle signals (i.e. learnable regularities) and noise (i.e. ‘meaningless’ deviations from expected events). The project seeks to explore the variability in different aspects of dogs’ social competence and to investigate whether dogs that exhibit autism-like behaviours show impaired social motivation and atypical perception of and responding to deviations from expectations. These results could provide valuable insights both for basic science (e.g. cognitive psychology, ethology) and for applied research (e.g. veterinary sciences, behaviour therapy). (Project No.: NKFIH_K128448)

Comparative investigation of the social-cognitive mechanisms in dogs and humans: an innovative methodological approach.

It is now widely accepted that the behaviour of a species (including humans) is shaped by the environment to which it has adapted during evolution. Increasing evidence support the notion that dogs possess social-communication skills that could resemble in many respects the human(infant)’s corresponding skills. It is also widely accepted that these behavioural similarities can be attributed to dogs’ unique domestication history (i.e. to dogs’ adaptation to human social environment). Although the complexity of the dog and human mind is evidently different, the aim of this research is to study whether, in addition to the behavioural similarities between dogs and children, there are functional similarities in the neural-, hormonal- and epigenetic mechanisms underlying some of these social behaviours. In our research programme, we innovatively combine traditional behavioural observations with modern neurocognitive methods (fMRI, EEG) and the analysis of gene x environment interactions (epigenetic profiling). The results will bring us closer to unravelling those hidden mechanisms that underlie the parallel evolution of the social-cognition in dogs and humans. (Project No.: NKFIH-K1121388)

The Potential Effect of Behavioral Stimulation on Social Competence in Dogs (via Endogenous

Oxytocin Release)Intranasal administration of oxytocin has been proposed to be an effective way of improving several socio-cognitive skills in humans. There is evidence that dogs show human-analogue social behaviours and socio-cognitive capacities. Furthermore recent studies have demonstrated that the oxytocin system is related to human-directed social behaviour in dogs. Some (both human and dog) studies suggest that pretreatment with social stimuli (eye contact, petting) has similar behavioural effects because these cues stimulate oxytocin release. Based on this we propose that a behavioural sensitization procedure (BSP) offers a viable alternative to intranasal oxytocin treatment (IN-OT) in order to study the biological mechanisms underlying social cognition. The current project will thus investigate the effect of BSP in parallel with IN-OT on dog social behaviour and neurophysiology. A further aim is to focus on different subject groups and thus reveal environmental and breed effects, as well as to test the effect of individual variation by looking at dogs with different levels of social functioning. Our first objective is to establish if similarly to intranasal oxytocin treatment BSP by the owner and/or the experimenter also improves sociality compared to control groups in pet dogs. Then dogs that had been naturally exposed to extensive negative or positive social experience during ontogeny (dogs adopted from a shelter and therapy dogs) will be tested in order to assess how environmental factors might influence the effect of BSP. This will be followed by testing subjects from two selected breeds that are known to differ in sociability (as well as allele frequency for oxytocin receptor gene polymorphysims) in order to reveal the potential influence of inherited characteristics on the effect of BSP. Our final objective is to test the effect of BSP (both one-time and repeated treatment) on dogs with poor social functioning with regard to social susceptibility. Different methodological approaches will be used to achieve these goals. First, two version of a well established food preference task will be used to test social susceptibility in an ostensive and a non-ostensive context. Second, face processing tasks will be applied requiring different levels of behavioural effort from the subjects: a touch screen task, a looking preference (head turning) task with projected images, and an eye-tracking task. Third, different physiological measures such as brain activity (EEG), eye movements (EOG) and heart rate (ECG) will be monitored. It is expected that the combination of different behavioural and intranasal treatments as well as different methodological approaches will enable us to disentangle the complex relationship between the oxytocin system and dogs’ human-analogue social skills. (BIAL Foundation Grant)

List of publications

List of publications
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