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A number of factors have played an important role in the evolutionary success of the human species. One of the undeniably fundamental factors has been our inherent ability to communicate. This capacity to perceive, respond to and coordinate behaviour with others has not only allowed us to survive, but also to thrive. The ERC-funded project SOCIAL ROBOTS headed by Prof. Emily Cross is aiming to gain a deeper understanding of the intricacies of how we comprehend and coordinate our actions with other people and with robots to achieve mutual goals.
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.
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.
Adolescence is marked by significant physical, cognitive and socio-emotional changes. Despite these well-known developments, the neural mechanisms supporting this phase of growth in the life of human beings remain unknown. Prof. Eveline Crone has carried out for the first time a longitudinal study to investigate the brain processes underlying the behaviour of teenagers.
How does our acting, sensing and feeling body shape our mind? Dr Katerina Fotopoulou’s ERC-funded project is an ambitious exploration of the relationship between the body and the mind which spans philosophy, psychology and clinical neuroscience. She will be presenting her work at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin, China (10-12 September). In preparation for her presentation, Dr Fotopoulou is concentrating on one particular aspect of her research: the ramifications of body image.
It feels as if humanity has never been more connected. We live in ever-expanding cities, stay in constant contact and even have online friendships with people we have never met. But have human social relationships really changed that much since we were hunter-gathers some 200 000 years ago? Are we suited to living in a world where everyone is apparently supposed to know everyone else? And most pressing of all, how can we achieve social cohesion at a time of great urbanisation and globalisation?
Hallucinations have been the seeds of inspiration of legendary filmmakers such as Luis Buñuel, Terry Gilliam or David Lynch. Auditory hallucinations are a major symptom of schizophrenia. These inner voices people hear in the absence of any external acoustic input can be very disruptive for health and for social life. Professor Kenneth Hugdahl, who holds an ERC Advanced grant, has developed an iPhone app to help patients to re-focus their attention. Based at the University of Bergen in Norway, he participates in the “Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities” conference in Vilnius on 23 and 24 September 2013 and exposes the first results of his ERC project.
Do you remember Dr. No, the first James Bond film? When the tarantula crawled on the hero’s chest, what did you see? The flickering of pixels on the screen? No, you most likely saw a scared secret agent with an itching chest that tries to kill a spider. Somehow your brain transformed the pixels into hidden states that are not visible to the eye, namely intentions and emotions.