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Porttretfoto Chris de Zeeuw

Funding for groundbreaking fundamental research

Seven consortia with top researchers from different Dutch research institutions, including The Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, have received a total of 142.7 million euros to carry out scientific research programs in the coming years as part of the research program Gravitation.

Growing Up Together in Society (GUTS)

Valeria Gazzola and Christian Keysers are part of the consortium ‘Growing Up Together in Society’ that has been awarded 22 million euros. The goal of this 10-year project is to understand how young people grow up in increasingly complex societies and make contributions to society. This consortium of neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and child psychiatrists, which also includes the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the University of Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam UMC, Leiden University, University of Groningen, Utrecht University and the Radboudumc, under the coordination of Eveline Crone, has been 5 years in the making. It will study individual neurobiological development in relation to educational processes, social networks, and societal norms, including antisocial behavior. The project will integrate neuroscience with individual and environmental factors to develop an integrative framework on self-regulation development and contributions to society that will have explanatory as well as predictive power across multiple domains of functioning in adolescence and early adulthood. “Working together with so many leading scientists in the Netherlands will allow us unprecedented insights into the mechanisms that help children grow up to become the adults out societies need” summarizes Keysers. Gazzola adds: “In particular, at the NIN, we will leverage our expertise in the neural basis of empathy and social decision-making to develop paradigms that we can use to shed light onto individual differences and the developmental trajectories of the mechanisms that link individuals together.”

The Dutch Brain Interfaces Initiative (DBI2)

The consortium ‘The Dutch Brain Interfaces Initiative’ will receive 21,9 million euros. Together with the Radboud University and other partners, Pieter Roelfsema, Valeria Gazzola and Chris de Zeeuw will focus on interacting with the brain. “To understand how the brain works, we must understand how its parts interact with each other and with the world outside” says Roelfsema. “Understanding these interactions is essential if we build brain interfaces, and novel prosthetic approaches to nervous system ailments.” DBI2 will develop principles and devices to improve therapeutic strategies for brain disorders, and disorders affecting sensory and emotion systems and cause compulsions.

Gravitation program

The Gravitation program enables researchers to carry out top-level university research and multidisciplinary cooperation for ten years. One of the cornerstones of the program is cooperation across disciplines and universities. The scientists set up excellent scientific research programs together in consortia. The purpose of Gravitation is to encourage research programs to achieve international breakthroughs.

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Porttretfoto Chris de Zeeuw

De Zeeuw Group

The group of Chris De Zeeuw focuses on the role of the cerebellum in sensorimotor integration and cognition. We aim to understand how cerebellar processing contributes to motor learning of both relatively simple reflex tasks and complex preparatory tasks.

 

Chris de Zeeuw at Brainy Days in Jerusalem – ELSC

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Gazzola Group

When we see a little girl falling from her bike, why do most of us instinctively run to help and comfort her?

Years of research show that one of the reasons why we help other people is because their suffering activates brain regions that are also active when we ourselves are hurt. The pain of the child with her bleeding knee becomes our own pain. Helping the girl now becomes a way to sooth what is now our pain. A similar contagion happens for other emotions as well: we rejoice with our friend when we watch her crossing the finish line of her first marathon.
In some circumstances the decision to help is less readily made, but requires a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of the action we decide to take. For instance, if you are late for an important job interview, and you see the mother also running toward the child, you might decide to keep on going instead. This is because you have quickly calculated the benefits for the other against the costs for yourself, and found that the costs of helping (high probability of not getting the coveted new job) in this case are higher than the benefits to the other (comforting a child you do not know while her mom will soon arrive).

Some of the core questions my lab currently investigates are: What areas of the brain cause us to act prosocially? How does the brain weigh the benefits to self and the cost to others? How do we learn the consequences our actions have on others? When we hit someone he will likely be in pain. How does this make us learn that hitting people is bad? Why do psychopathic individuals fail to acquire these moral sentiments? Does the activation of our own pain brain regions while witnessing the other wince in pain play a critical role in that learning?

In order to answer these questions, we synergize brain imaging tools such as 3T and 7T fMRI and EEG, and neuro-modulation tools, such as TMS and tDCS.

 

 

Social Brain Lab

Befitting our interest in social cognition, my lab and that of Christian Keysers create a joint, strongly collaborative cluster of expertise on the neural basis of social cognition that we call the Social Brain Lab.

STUDENT PROJECTS

If you are interested in applying for an internship in the Social Brain Lab please follow the instructions in this document. This also applies to literature thesis projects.

Funding

The Gazzola lab is generously financed by the Dutch Science Foundation’s Innovational Research Incentives Scheme (VIDI), the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the European Research Council Start Up Grant, the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología of Mexico.

 

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Keysers Group

While we watch a movie, we share the experiences of the actors we observe: our heart for instance starts beating faster while we see an actor slip from the roof of a tall building. Why?

Specific brain areas are involved when we perform certain actions or have certain emotions or sensations. Interestingly, some of these areas are also recruited when we simply observe someone else performing similar actions, having similar sensations or having similar emotions. These areas called ‘shared circuits’ transform what we see into what we would have done or felt in the same situation. With such brain areas, understanding other people is not an effort of explicit thought but becomes an intuitive sharing of their emotions, sensations and actions.

Christian Keysers‘ lab focuses on providing increasingly detailed insights into how exactly the brain achieves this remarkable feat of empathy. For this aim, the lab combines powerful methods to non-invasively image brain activity in humans, with an unprecedented ability to record and influence brain activity at neural levels in rodents. You can get an impression for the labs spirit in these short movies:

 

In addition, the lab explores why some people seem to show very reduced empathy, for instance in patient groups that suffer from impairments in social cognition, including autism and psychopathy. You can get an impression for that work from the following episode with Morgan Freeman:

Cover The Empathic Brain

 

Read more about our research in Christian Keysers’s book The Empathic Brain.

Available at Amazon US, EU, UK in English, or as translations into Dutch (Het empathische brein), German (Unser Empathisches Gehirn), Turkish or Japanese.

 

Or what Christian Keysers present the lab at the Marie Curie Action’s 20th Anniversary in Brussels

 

Social Brain Lab

Befitting our interest in social cognition, my lab and that of Valeria Gazzola create a joint, strongly collaborative cluster of expertise on the neural basis of social cognition that we call the Social Brain Lab.

Student projects

If you are interested in applying for an internship in the Social Brain Lab please follow the instructions in this document. This also applies to literature thesis projects.

Funding

ERC European Commission FP7

NWOMarieCurie

The Keysers lab studies fundamental issues in social neuroscience. To do so, we are entirely dependent on public funding. We are enormously thankful to the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO) and the European Commission for being dedicated patrons of such frontier science. Without the Talent Scheme of NWO that has supported our work through VENI, VIDI and VICI grants, and without the European Commission that has supported us through the ERC and several Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, we would have been unable to tackle the mysteries of our social nature. In addition, the Dutch Government has helped us deeply through the  National Initiative for Brain and Cognition.

FACILITIES

The social brain lab is equipped to integrate research in humans and rodents. For this purpose it has the following equipment.

HUMAN RESEARCH:

Human Equipment at SBL
Human Equipment at SBL
  • 3T philips scanner at the Spinoza Center (10m away, click here for details)
  • 7T philips scanner at the Spinoza Center (10m away, click here for details)
  • 130Ch ActiChamp EEG system (that can be split in two 64Ch systems for hyperscanning)
  • Magstim Rapid TMS system with neuronavigation
  • 8Ch Soterix tDCS system

RODENT RESEARCH

  • housing facilities for mice and rats
  • 64Ch Neuralynx Electrophysiology system for freely moving rodents with silicon probes or tetrodes
  • Neurolabware two-photon laser scanning microscope with Phenosys VR system
  • DM2 fascilities for viral transfections
  • Ethovision system for behavioral analysis

DATA ANALYSIS

  • 40 Core, 2TB RAM shared ram supercomputer

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Roelfsema Group

The Vision and Cognition group is led by Dr. Pieter Roelfsema, also director of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. Research of this group is directed at understanding cortical mechanisms of visual perception, memory and plasticity. One of our goals is to create a visual cortical prosthesis to restore vision in blind people.

 

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