The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant to five researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Academic Medical Center (AMC-UvA). The recipients are sociologist Don Weenink, philosopher Franz Berto, political scientist Marieke de Goede, physician Esther Lutgens and communication scientist Jochen Peter
The grant amounts to a total of 2 million euros for each project and will allow the researchers to position themselves as independent research leaders. The Consolidator Grant is meant for young researchers who obtained their PhDs between 7 and 12 years ago. The European Union created the ERC in 2007 to fund groundbreaking research.
With his Consolidator Grant, Don Weenink will seek to understand how group behaviour affects the likelihood and severity of violence in public space. While the prevailing social scientific focus remains on individual perpetrators and background factors, the empirical reality of public violence is one of multiple attackers, multiple victims and multiple bystanders. Weenink’s research will further the study of violence with a novel theory that identifies how group behaviour affects the outcome of antagonistic situations. Weenink will test his theory with comparative empirical studies. His ambition is to produce exemplary understanding of the crucial role that groups play in violence.
Our mind represents non-actual scenarios to extract information from them. We cannot experience beforehand which situations are or will be actual. So we explore them in our imagination, leaving our perceptions offline, the ‘What would happen if...?’ question. The cognitive importance of this activity is hardly overestimated. But what is its logic? The orthodox logical treatment of representational mental states comes from modal logic’s possible worlds semantics: the modal analysis of knowledge, belief and information was taken up by philosophy, linguistics, and artificial intelligence. However, the approach faces major problems. By systematically addressing them, Berto’s Logic of Conceivability (LoC) project will yield a paradigm shift in our understanding of the logic of human imagination. Berto and his group will address such issues via the techniques of non-classical logics with non-normal worlds semantics.
In the context of combating terrorism, governments are increasingly interested in accessing and analysing commercial databases. This includes, for example, financial data, but also passenger name records and information from social media. What does this public-private cooperation mean for the way in which sovereign security decisions are made? What does it mean in terms of guaranteeing the privacy of citizens, and for prosecuting the financing and facilitation of terrorism? In the project FOLLOW, Marieke de Goede and her team will analyse the path of the suspicious transaction as a ‘chain of security’. The project will develop a new conceptual approach at the intersection of security studies and science-and-technology studies. Research questions focus on privacy, knowledge practices and situated judgment across the chain of security. FOLLOW will also analyse the wider societal effects of using commercial data for security policy.
Lutgens will conduct research into the influence of certain inflammatory cells in atherosclerosis. The majority of cardiovascular diseases occur as a result of atherosclerosis, a disease in which lipid levels in blood play an important part and an inflammatory reaction occurs in the main arteries. Intervention in this inflammatory process offers new clues for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Treatments for atherosclerosis are primarily aimed at reducing lipid levels in blood. Nevertheless, the risk of cardiovascular diseases is only reduced by 25% as a result of this treatment. Researchers are therefore searching for new therapies. Lutgens’s research focuses on the role of specific immune cells (macrophage) in the inflammatory response that emerges as a result of atherosclerosis. Lutgens’ objective is to further unravel the process and study the effect of new medicines that possibly intervene in signal routes in macrophages.
Although they were originally made for labour, robots are increasingly also made for relationships. Social robots can learn from us, teach us, play with us and assist us. With the market for social robots expected to grow substantially in the next 20 years, social robots are likely to become a life-changing technology. And yet little is still known about children’s interaction with social robots. Children are not only increasingly recognised and targeted as early adopters of new technologies, but may also be more susceptible than adults to the potential effects of interacting with robots. The main aim of Peter’s project is to develop an integrative framework of child-robot interaction (CRI). Within this framework, he will synthesise theories and concepts from communication research and human-robot interaction, as well as developmental and social psychology. Peter and his team will focus on the antecedents of children’s acceptance of social robots, the consequences of CRI for children’s learning of social skills from social robots and their relationship formation with them, and the processes that explain why such effects emerge.