UofG researchers awarded €4m by the European Research Council

Two researchers at the University of Glasgow have been awarded multi million pound grants by the European Research Council (ERC).

The successful scholars will carry out crucial research into two key areas: human decision making and learning and the causes of democratic backsliding to identify solutions have each been given €2m by the European funding body.

Dr Marios Philiastides at the University’s Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, has been awarded €2m over five years to launch the Dynamic Network Reconstruction of Human Perceptual and Reward Learning via Multimodal Data Fusion (DyNeRfusion).

While Professor Anja Neundorf at the University’s School of Social and Political Sciences has also been awarded €2m for her global study called ”Democracy under Threat: How education can save it”.

The Glasgow researchers are among 301 top scientists and scholars across Europe who are winners of the European Research Council’s latest Consolidator Grant competition. Funding for these researchers, part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, is worth in total €600 million. With this support, the new grantees will have a chance to build up their teams and have far-reaching impact.

Dr Philiastides work will focus on how our brains learn to optimise our decisions through training and past experiences, using state-of-the-art brain imaging (fusion of EEG and fMRI) and mathematical modelling of human behaviour.

Dr Marios Philiastides said: “I am honoured and delighted to receive such a significant award from the European Research Council. Our team will be working to uncover the processes by which the human brain learns – through trial and error – to make better predictions and plan future actions.

“Consider learning to inspect a noisy x-ray image to issue an accurate diagnosis or learning to choose between different stock options to maximize your financial returns. These seemingly disparate learning scenarios have thus far been studied in isolation. Our main aim is to develop a unified framework for understanding the neurobiological processes underlying learning and decision making across different domains.”

The neuroscience team hopes their work will help inform future developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence and more specifically, how recent incarnations of artificial neural networks could learn to deal with an ever-increasing number of “big data” applications.

Professor Neundorf research aims to find solutions to the causes of democratic backsliding – a new global phenomenon - to building new educational programmes using social media to create more resilient democratic societies.

She said: “Winning the ERC Consolidator Grant will make a huge difference to my research agenda. It will allow me to conduct research, which I would otherwise not be able to do. The project will help to substantiate my passion by becoming a world-leading expert and pioneer on online democracy promotion.

“My research is a global study and will look at how to strengthen democracy and test the potential power of social media in this process - how it motivates people and how they participate in the political process. I hope through this five year project that we learn better how we educate people on how politics work.

“The project focuses on unique and under-studied factors of indoctrination and education as political tools – looking to find solutions to this worrying trend of democratic backsliding.

“In order to achieve this, I will implement innovative experimental designs through social media to test the effectiveness of online democracy promotion programmes to build more resilient democratic societies. “

Professor Neundorf will collaborated both with the Varieties of Democracy Institute at the University of Gothenburg and the US-based Democracy International on a series of experiments and surveys testing how to strengthen democracy.

The ERC Consolidator Grants 

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers of any nationality and age, with at least seven and up to twelve years of experience after PhD, and a scientific track record showing great promise. Research must be conducted in a public or private research organisation located in one of the EU Member States or Associated Countries. The funding (average of €2 million per grant), is provided for up to five years and mostly covers the employment of researchers and other staff to consolidate the grantees' teams.

About the ERC

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. It offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees' pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. To date, the ERC has funded more than 9,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers, and over 50,000 postdocs, PhD students and other staff working in their research teams.


First published: 10 December 2019