ERC Synergy Grant awarded to project exploring playful learning

Implementing a project entitled ‘BrainPlay’, an interdisciplinary team of researchers will explore the way in which play affects the human brain. Researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Geneva will study the effects of play on the learning processes inside the brain. The project has been awarded an ERC Synergy Grant by the European Research Council (ERC) amounting to €9.8 million Euros over a duration of six years.


The BrainPlay team strives to advance our understanding of the brain mechanisms involved in learning. Broad in scope, and with a clear focus on learning through play, BrainPlay represents a comprehensive study of the mechanisms of learning, ranging from the cellular level to overall cognitive performance. The aim of this research project is to understand the neurobiology of learning and the way in which learning through play affects our brains.

“We know very little about what happens inside the human brain during play, or how the brain state of ‘play’ may affect learning,” explains Prof. Dr. Robert Gütig, Professor in Mathematical Modeling of Neural Learning at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the BIH. A theoretical neuroscientist, Prof. Gütig is responsible for one of BrainPlay’s four component projects. His project addresses a new theory pertaining to neural mechanisms involved in self-teaching. A second BrainPlay project, also hosted at Charité, is led by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schmitz, Director of the Neuroscience Research Center and Spokesperson for the NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence. Prof. Schmitz’s BrainPlay project will address the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying synaptic changes that take place inside the brain during self-teaching. “We would like to know more about the way in which our brain can teach itself new knowledge and skills, i.e. how our brains are capable of autodidactic learning,” says Prof. Schmitz. Charité will receive approximately €4.8 million in funding to host these two BrainPlay projects.