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Over the past months, a sudden influx of ‘Pokémon Go’ players could be observed across the globe. Youngsters, people of all ages scrutinise their surroundings silently, using their smartphones to catch those digital creatures with unlikely names. How could such a phenomenon take over the world so fast? Part of the answer may be the game’s strong interaction with the real-world and its impressive mapping, offering a whole new virtual experience of spaces that seem to be familiar and yet so different.
While on court, beach volleyball players need to act as a whole in order to prevent the ball from touching the sand: in a fraction of a second - just before the opponent's hand spikes the ball - the passer has to predict and adjust to the attacker's action as well as to their teammate's block position. Thanks to her Consolidator Grant, cognitive science professor Natalie Sebanz is studying the cognitive and psychological mechanisms underlying joint action expertise – in other words, how individuals learn skilled actions, such as those performed by professional athletes, together.
European researchers have designed brain-like artificial neural networks capable of numerical and spatial cognition and written language processing without any explicit training or pre-programming. Their work, based on the machine-learning approach of generative models, significantly advances the development of self-learning artificial intelligence, while also deepening understanding of human cognition.
While computers can calculate or recognise faces, they are not aware of themselves (yet?). Consciousness is in the essence of human beings; its nature, however, appears to lack a reliable explanation. Prof. Axel Cleeremans is developing a new theory, the Radical Plasticity Thesis, maintaining that consciousness is a long-lasting property of our brain rather than just a static feature. In order to test it, he is taking a multidisciplinary approach including psychological studies and advanced brain imaging.
The Theory of Mind - the ability to understand that others may have thoughts, beliefs, desires, and intentions different from ours - develops in early childhood and is considered as a key process to explain our social interactions. How do children acquire this ability? What are the cognitive and brain mechanisms that allow human beings to learn from others, to predict their behaviour and to communicate with them? These are some of the questions Dr Agnes Melinda Kovacs addresses, thanks to an ERC grant, in her laboratory in Budapest.
Living creatures relate to their surroundings in all kinds of ways. One of these is by eating from them and excreting into them. But what is eating? Incorporating other creatures or absorbing nutrients? A need of individual bodies or a pleasure that table companions share? The ERC project EATINGBODIES has explored such questions by studying various forms of eating.
Different responses might be given to global challenges. For example, how should the vanishing of a glacier be tackled? Prof. Thomas Eriksen aims to understand the economic, environmental and cultural transitions the world is going through and the responses created by local communities in order to offer valuable advice to our policymakers and leaders.
Slavery represents a dark and unclosed page in the history of mankind. Even if legally abolished by all countries of the world, its legacies shape the present in a plurality of ways and often overlap with the phenomena that scholars, activists and policy-makers target as new slaveries. Which are the consequences of slavery after its legal death? Should new forms of labor exploitation and human bondage also be read in this key? Or are they the result of recent economic, political and social transformations?
A ground-breaking anthropological discovery took place in East Africa, where ERC Advanced grantee Dr Marta Mirazón Lahr and her team have been studying human origins. At the excavation site in Nataruk in northern Kenya, they have stumbled upon a real archaeological rarity – the earliest historical evidence of warfare.
Since its establishment in 1959, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has delivered more than 10,000 judgments. Verdicts are rendered on State parties that, having ratified the European Convention of Human Rights, have nonetheless violated the civil and political rights set in this international Treaty and its protocols. Through her ERC research, Prof. Eva Brems questioned the accountability and reliability of this supranational court. Is it fit for purpose?