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ABC Themes and Transversal Perspectives

Amsterdam Brain and Cognition (ABC)

In 2018 ABC launched its distinct Themes and characteristic Transversal Perspectives. The goal of these profiles and perspectives is to initiate and strengthen ties between researchers. These manifest thematic topics are interdisciplinary in nature, broad enough to be inclusive for many of ABC’s members and divisions and yet focal enough to be coherent and distinctive. Each theme and perspective is represented by a team of Ambassadors. Let us walk you through the 6 Themes and Transversal Perspectives and introduce you to their Ambassadors.


Broad yet focal and topical research profiles have emerged from bottom-up inventories, solicited from all ABC members. These themes have been distilled through semi-quantitative cluster analysis, based on how well they cut across disciplines and faculties, and on how prominently they were represented in the inventory.

  • Decision-Making, Impulse Control & Rationality (DIR)

    Jan Engelmann (FEB)
    Ruth van Holst (AMC)
    Bernadette van Wijk (FMG)

    DIR investigates the neural basis of perceptual and value-based decision-making. We aim to understand the neural and behavioral mechanisms that support decision-making in healthy people, as well as in psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as Mood Disorders, (gambling) Addiction and Parkinson’s Disease.

    The field combines methods from Mathematical Psychology, Behavioral Economics and Game Theory with those of Clinical, Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience. Some of the topics we investigate at ABC include the role of emotions in economic and social decisions, meta-cognitive processes underlying choice, neurobiological mechanisms of reinforcement learning, the role of basal ganglia structures in impulsive behavior, and the mechanisms underlying deep brain stimulation for OCD and depression.

  • Plasticity, Memory & Language (including Learning) (PML)

    Vanessa van Ast (FMG)
    Carien Lansink (FNWI)
    Jakub Szymanik (FGW)

    Researchers associated with the PML study mechanisms of brain plasticity, memory, and language. One central aim is to understand the fundamental molecular, cellular, and neural, and cognitive, underpinnings of these processes, another is to reveal how plasticity, memory, and language are altered in health and disease, and across the life-span.
    A wide range of research techniques and manipulations are employed, for instance single-cell recordings, neuroimaging, psychophysiology, AI, behavioral experimentation, psychological interventions, computational modeling, and cognitive tasks.
    The PML theme thus brings fundamental mechanistic and theoretical insights in memory and language, that range from basic neuroscience through cognitive science, to the field of mental health.

  • Perception, Attention & Consciousness (PAC)

    Simon van Gaal (FMG)
    Umberto Olcese (FNWI)
    Steven Scholte (FMG)

    The Perception, Attention and Consciousness (PAC) theme is one of the six thematic and interdisciplinary profiles that ABC recently established. PAC aims to promote collaborations and interactions among ABC members who are active or interested in the topics of perception, action and consciousness.
    Following the interdisciplinary approach which characterizes ABC, all approaches are welcome: from fundamental research to clinical studies, from biology to cognition, and from experimental methods to theoretical and computational approaches. PAC aims to organize a few networking and outreach event every year, to foster collaboration and increase the visibility of ABC researchers.

    Understanding Consciousness
    Our brains are made up of billions of cells, ingeniously interconnected. From this matter, conscious experience arises of the world around us, as well feelings of joy, pain or fear. Without consciousness life wouldn’t matter to us. Scientist that are part of the ABC theme “Perception Attention and Consciousness” are continuously working on unraveling its mysteries.

Transversal Perspectives

In addition to the thematic profiles, ABC research profiles are also grouped in 3 prominent Transversal Perspectives, which do not cluster into clear content-wise themes yet, but are prominently represented and cut across disciplines.

  • (Neuro)computational Modeling (MOD)

    Jaap Murre (FMG)
    Rajat Thomas  (AMC)
    Erik-Jan Wagenmakers (FMG)
    Jelle Zuidema (FGW/FNWI)

    Richard Feynman once said, “What I cannot create, I do not understand”. Computational Neuro-modelling has been neuroscience’s way of adhering to this principle. Although, a mature discipline, recent advances in machine learning and AI have disrupted the status quo — in its wake creating boundless new opportunities. As part of this transversal perspective, our intention is to bring together experts from across the spectrum; experimentalists interested in building models to modelers who would like to test their hypothesis, under one umbrella. We have members in this group who are experts in spiking neural networks, deep learning, statistics and their applications to analyzing and modelling neuroscientific data. As part of our vision, we would like to host regular meetings at the intersection of these various topics with in-house lectures and invited speakers. The overall intention is to make each other aware of the talent in modeling available locally in Amsterdam and provide a breeding ground for new ideas and collaborations in computational neuro-modeling.

  • Individual Differences (ID)

    Hilde Geurts (FMG)
    Judith Rispens (FGW)
    Karin Verweij (AMC)

    Individual differences within and between populations
    There are strong differences between individuals with regards to their cognitive abilities, development, brain functioning, behaviour, vulnerability to psychopathology etc. We also know that there are important differences between populations, for example in risk for certain physical and mental health problems.

    Our research is aimed at understanding individual differences within and between populations by integrating scientific insights from various disciplines. We examine genetic vulnerability and environmental risk factors (and their interaction), as well as differences in cognitive abilities and psychological characteristics. Moreover, we focus on how these factors change during the life span.

  • Translational Science (TS)

    Janna Cousijn (FMG)
    Paul Lucassen (FNWI)
    Anouk Schrantee (AMC)

    As a transversal perspective, the Translational Science pillar aims to connect researchers from different disciplines and backgrounds in order to facilitate the translation of their findings from bench-to-bedside.
    Translational science wants to facilitate a fast turnover of basic science findings into new therapies, medical procedures and/or diagnostics. Given the strong emphasis among governing bodies and grant agencies to promote societal impact and short term valorization of fundamental research, the Translational Science pillar aims to promote such translational efforts within ABC.
    We want to identify and align specific research paradigms and protocols available within the many strong labs in ABC working on both basic science and clinical applications and help them make a transition from pre-clinical to more clinical/diagnostic/therapeutic research approaches.
    Our main objective is to provide a platform for these researchers to network and help set up new collaborations and thereby make their translational ambitions and efforts more efficient and efficacious.