Two Principal Investigators awarded prestigious ERC Starting Grants
Dr Tobias Hauser (Principal Investigator of the Developmental Computational Psychiatry Team) and Dr Peter Kok (Principal Investigator of the Visual Perception Team) have been awarded prestigious EU funding for the next five years, and will join fellow laureates of the 2020 European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants competition.
The funding is worth a total of £677million, to assist early-career scientists and scholars to conduct pioneering research across all disciplines.
Dr Hauser’s project will aim to understand the impact of brain fluctuations on decision making using a novel neuroimaging framework which he recently developed. Dr Hauser added:
“In this project, we will investigate how the brain’s inner workings affect out behaviour. We know that the brain is always active, even when we do nothing. We will study why this is and how it affects our behaviour. We will record the constant ebbs and flows of the brain’s activity and find out how these fluctuations impact on our decisions and actions using novel neuroimaging techniques and drug studies.
This grant will allow us to better understand how humans make decisions and why we often act irrationally and inconsistently. This will improve our understanding of brain processes and may also help understand decision making difficulties in people suffering from mental health problems.”
Following receipt of the grant he also added:
“I am extremely grateful and honoured for being awarded an ERC Starting Grant. Thanks to this very generous support from the EU’s research council, I will be able to build a new line of research and carry out this risky and exciting new work. It will give me the chance to collaborate closely with my colleagues across Europe, strengthening research both in the EU and the UK”.
Dr Kok’s project aims to study the neural mechanisms underlying subjective perception. The way we perceive the world is strongly influenced by our expectations about what we are likely to see at any given moment. In certain situations – namely when sensory signals are very weak or noisy and expectations are very strong – expectations can even induce hallucinations: seeing an expected stimulus despite its absence. However, the neural mechanisms by which the brain integrates sensory inputs and expectations, and thereby generates the contents of perception, have yet to be established. Dr Kok added:
“One of the most profound questions in modern science is how the brain generates our subjective perception of the word around us. That is, how does a pattern of light hitting our retinas result in a conscious experience? The aim of this research programme is to get closer to an answer to this question by investigating how the brain infers the state of the world from 1) our prior knowledge and 2) the light that hits our eyes”.
Upon receipt of the grant, he also added:
“I am tremendously grateful to receive the ERC Starting Grant. How our brain generates our perception of the world around us is one of the biggest mysteries in modern science, and I am highly excited to start this research programme which aims to make a contribution to this question”.
Dr Kok was also an awardee of the prestigious Wellcome-Beit prize which are awarded to four outstanding biomedical researchers who have been awarded other Wellcome Trust fellowship funding. Each award offers £25,000 to be used in the Fellow’s research. On receiving the prize Dr Kok added:
“I am delighted to have been awarded the prestigious Wellcome-Beit prize for most promising independent research leaders. It’s an honour to join the ranks of the excellent scientists who have been awarded the Wellcome-Beit award previously”.
Professor Cathy Price, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging added: