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ABC Projects, Talents and VIPs

ABC - Amsterdam Brain and Cognition

This page gives an overview of recent proposals that have been awarded the ABC Talent Grant or ABC Project Grant. Each project is listed with an abstract, which should give applicants a good impression of the research ABC is interested in.

ABC Talent Grant

  • Shared decision-making model for managing cavernous malformations in the brain

    ABC Talent: Susanna Zuurbier, Amsterdam University Medical Center

    ABC Talent Grant September 2019

    A cerebral cavernous malformation is a vascular abnormality in the brain and imposes doctors and patients with a dilemma on whether to intervene or not: without intervention, around 4-30% of symptomatic cerebral cavernous malformations lead to sudden bleedings in the brain, causing death or severe handicap in over 20% of patients. Neurosurgery can prevent brain hemorrhage, but may also permanently damage the brain tissue.

    Many patients perceive a cerebral cavernous malformation as an abnormality in their brain that they cannot control, which reduces their quality of life. Risk severity perception depends on perceived personal control on that risk, which in turn affects psychological and physical well-being.

    In the absence of clear guidelines based on randomized clinical trials, decision-making is mainly opinion- instead of evidence-based. The goal of my research is to develop a decision model to guide interventions based on new predictors of bleeding of cerebral cavernous malformations and quality of life.

    The project for managing cavernous malformations in the brain calls for an interdisciplinary collaboration. I will work together with experts in the field of neurology (prof. dr. Y.B.W.E.M. Roos, Amsterdam UMC), social and behavioral sciences (prof. dr. F. van Harreveld (UvA)) and biomedical engineering & physics (assistant prof. dr. M.W.A. Caan).  

  • Neural mechanisms of self-conscious emotions in socially anxious adolescents

    ABC Talent: Milica Nikolić, University of Amsterdam, Research Institute of Child Development and Education

    ABC Talent Grant September 2019

    Self-conscious emotions, such as embarrassment and shame, are powerful forces that facilitate social affiliation but dysregulation in self-conscious emotions can significantly impair social functioning. In particular, excessive embarrassment and shame and related blushing responses are hallmark features of social anxiety disorder (SAD), a common mental disorder that starts in adolescence. Little is known about how self-conscious emotions, such as embarrassment and its related blushing response, are generated.

    Morever, whether feeling oneself blush triggers more embarrassment via biased interoception and mentalizing about what others think of us—the process thought to underlie SAD— has never been explored. The aim of this project is to shed light on the neural underpinnings of embarrassment including blushing, its self-perception, and related mentalizing in adolescents with high and low levels of social anxiety. Two groups of 30 adolescents with high and low levels of SAD symptoms will sing a song on stage while being video-recorded.

    Afterwards, we will play the video of their performance vs. that of another participant to them while measuring their brain activity and blushing in the fMRI scanner. By comparing viewing self vs. other across the high vs. low socially anxious groups, we can, for the first time, identify the neural correlates of blushing and thereby establish how the occurrence and duration of blushing is linked to interoceptive and mentalizing processes. Furthermore, we will establish which neural mechanisms characterize enhanced self-conscious emotions in SAD, and whether they map onto localizers for interoception and mentalizing.

    The findings will decompose the processes that may render an adaptive but transient embarrassment in healthy individuals into a debilitating vicious circle of heightened self-consciousness in socially anxious individuals.


    Disa Sauter

    University of Amsterdam | Department of Social Psychology


    Ramon Lindauer

    Amsterdam UMC | Academic Medical Center, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry


  • Shaping identities through autobiographical memories

    ABC Talent: Isidoor Bergfeld, Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam, Department of Psychiatry

    ABC Talent Grant 2019

    Autobiographical memories play an important role in forming our identities, imagining ourselves in the future and maintaining long-term goals. The less specific autobiographical memories of patients with major depression, therefore, are hypothesized to result in a failure to maintain long-term goals and, in turn, suicidality. Alternatively, reduced basic cognitive functions of depressed patients could underlie the deficiencies in autobiographical memory as well as future planning. With this ABC talent grant, we aim to see how basic cognitive functions, autobiographical memory, sense of self and future planning interact, and how these relate to psychiatric symptoms.


    Claudi Bockting
    Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam | Amsterdam Brain and Cognition; Amsterdam Public Health
    Faculty of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Institute for Advanced Study


    Esmée Verwijk
    University of Amsterdam; Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam | Amsterdam Brain and Cognition; Parnassia Groep.
    Department of Psychology, Brain and Cognition; Department of Medical Psychology, Neuropsychology; Amsterdam Brain and Cognition; ECT Center Haaglanden.


  • The role of recurrent processing in conscious perception investigated using pharmacological intervention, laminar fMRI and visual illusions

    ABC Talent: Maartje de Jong, Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging, Amsterdam

    ABC Talent Grant 2019

    Recurrent processing is thought to be crucial for consciousness. We will pharmacologically hamper recurrent processing (using an NMDA-blocker) and investigate the effect of this intervention on functional characteristics of visual cortex and the perception of visual illusions. Since illusions occur without stimulus-driven support, we hypothesize a reduction of illusion-strength. Furthermore, we expect modulations of population receptive fields (measured using laminar fMRI) in the deep/superficial but not the middle layers of visual cortex, considering the known involvement of deep/superficial layers in recurrent processing. By combining pharmacology with state-of-the-art neuroimaging we aim to link biochemical with system-level mechanisms underlying conscious perception.


    Simon van Gaal, UvA | Department of Psychology, Brain and Cognition


    Anouk Schrantee, Amsterdam University Medical Centre, UvA | Radiology and Nuclear Medicine


ABC Project Grant

  • What colour are your i's? Synesthesia as a window into cross-language letter representations


    Romke Rouw, FMG, Psychology, Brain and Cognition


    Willem Zuidema , FNWI, Cognition, Language & Computation lab, ILLC


    Richard Ridderinkhof, FMG, Developmental Psychology/Brain and Cognition


    Nicholas Root, Psychology, University of California, San Diego

    ABC Project Grant 2019

    The seemingly-simple question "How are letters represented in the brain?" is complicated by the fact that different languages have different representational systems (e.g., alphabets), and that many different linguistic properties plausibly influence letter representations.

    We study grapheme-colour synesthesia, where normal (healthy) individuals have consistent color sensations with letters (“R is sky-blue”). Remarkably, the linguistic properties of each letter (e.g., orthographic, phonetic) act as regulatory factors (RFs): they influence the synesthetic letter-to-colour pairings. These RFs similarly influence non-synesthetes requested to choose colors for letters. In this project, we employ synesthetic colours as a means for cross-language comparisons of letter representations.

    We will create a large multi-language letter-to-colour database, a computational model predicting letter-to-colour associations using the (weighted) regulatory factors, and a neurological model explaining how linguistic properties shape letter representations in the brain. Finally, a spinoff project pilots the computational model as innovative approach to second-language learning.

  • Sleep-related memory reactivation: a conscious process?


    Lucia Talamini, Psychology, FMG, UvA


    Umberto Olcese, SILS, FNWI, UvA


    Elsa Juan, Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness, Dept. of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    ABC Project Grant 2019

    Sleep promotes memory consolidation through specific neural mechanisms. Recent data suggest that memory consolidation can be externally enhanced both by boosting slow oscillations and by presenting memory cues during sleep. While consciousness during sleep – dreaming – has been associated with memory performance, it is unknown whether consciousness is needed to support these memory consolidation processes. Through combined assessment of neural activity, dream reports and memory performance in humans and animals, this project provides an exhaustive account of the role of dreaming in memory consolidation and its underlying neural mechanisms, and paves the way towards targeted (non)clinical interventions.