Confirmed speakers

Jessie Adriaense (University of Zurich, Switzerland)

Johannes Algermissen (Donders Institute, Radboud University/ University of Oxford) 

Neil Garrett (University of East Anglia, United Kingdom)

Ciara Greene (University College Dublin, Ireland)

Justyna Hinchcliffe (University of Bristol, United Kingdom)

Ewelina Knapska (Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Poland)

Lubor Kostal (Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia)

Rui F. Oliveira (Institute of Applied Psychology (ISPA)/Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC), Lisbon, Portugal)

Emma Robinson (University of Bristol, United Kingdom)

Oliver Robinson (University College London, London, United Kingdom)

Jessie E.C. Adriaense

Evolutionary Cognition Group

Department of Anthropology

University of Zürich


Talk title: 'Evolutionary origins of empathy: comparative research on emotions in birds and primates'

Abstract: Our social lives and the success of our interactions often depend on sharing the same mindset with others, such as how sharing the other’s emotions and understanding them (i.e. empathy) may facilitate prosocial behavior. From an evolutionary perspective, it was long assumed that empathy was restricted to mammals, yet observations and recent empirical work in other animal taxa, such as birds, puts this notion into question. Moreover, measuring psychological mechanisms, such as shared emotions, is notoriously difficult in a range of species, which is partially driven by conceptual and empirical ambiguities. For that reason, my research focuses theoretically on disentangling these ambiguities and empirically on non-invasive behavioral and cognitive methods to measure emotion states, to further understand the evolution of empathy, and its potential convergence in distantly related species.

Johannes Algermissen

Department of Psychiatry

University of Oxford, UK


Donders Institute, Radboud University

The Netherlands.

Talk title: 'Pavlovian biases in learning and decision-making and how to make adaptive use of them'

Abstract: Rewards and punishments do not only influence behavior once they are obtained, but already when they are expected: Reward prospect invigorates action, while punishment prospect suppresses it. This coupling between valence and action, called Pavlovian biases, constitutes a very fast decision-making strategy that could be adaptive in some environments, but maladaptive in others. In fact, it has been evoked to explain why humans are tempted by reward-related cues signaling the chance to gain food, drugs, or money, and conversely why aversive cues can lead to paralysis, which is at the core of mental health problems such as phobias and mood disorders. I will present four studies disentangling different aspects of these biases. First, I will show how to distinguish Pavlovian response biases from Pavlovian learning biases, and how both are evoked by interactions between cortical influences on subcortical action selection circuits. Second, I will present results from a large-scale online study finding associations between depression and an increased suppression of these biases. Third, I will present results from eye-tracking and MEG studies showing that humans might sometimes deliberately expose themselves to information that triggers these biases, suggesting an adaptive role of Pavlovian biases in action control and adaptive goal pursuit.

Neil Garrett

Sir Henry Wellcome Research Fellow

School of Psychology

University of East Anglia, UK

Talk title: Model-based habits

Abstract: A core aspect of planning involves maintaining an accurate model of an environment's dynamics: what are the consequences of the different actions I can take? In this talk, I will present a new model of planning which provides an account of how individuals cluster information about the consequences of different actions. I will show that this model can generate choices that are insensitive to reward devaluation, behaviour previously thought to be a signature of habits. These “ersatz habits” (just like laboratory ones) emerge after overtraining, interact with contextual cues and show preserved sensitivity to reinforcer devaluation in a consumption test (a standard control). Whilst these results do not rule out a contribution of habits per se, they highlight the need for caution in using devaluation procedures to rule them in (or out) and offer a new perspective on the neurocomputational substrates of repetitive harmful behaviours prevalent in clinical pathologies such as OCD and addiction.

Ciara Greene 

Associate Professor

School of Psychology

University College Dublin


Talk title: From fake news to false memories: Tracing the consequences of exposure to misinformation

Abstract: Research suggests that exposure to "fake news" can lead to false memories of the events described in the news stories, especially if they align with our existing personal or political beliefs. In this talk, I will outline the effects of misinformation on memory, and describe recent evidence regarding potential consequences for behaviour. I will also consider the ethical implications of this kind of research: how can we evaluate the effects of real-world misinformation without exposing participants to potential harm?

Justyna Hinchcliffe

School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience

Faculty of Life Sciences

University of Bristol, UK

Talk title: Methods to assess the emotional states of laboratory rodents and to refine their lifetime experience

Abstract: A better understanding of animal emotions and refinement of their husbandry, handling, housing, and methods for drug administration are important goals in providing good animal welfare in a laboratory setting and underpin rigorous research quality. Handling, housing, and daily procedures contribute to the lifetime experience of the animal and also provide a potential opportunity for improvement. The methods presented (rat tickling as a positive handling technique, an increase of the environmental complexity with ball pits and playpens, non-restraint dosing techniques) are all supported by empirical data using objective assessments of stress responses and/or affective states such as the affective bias test, the reward learning assay and recording of rats’ ultrasonic vocalisations. Together, these findings suggest that simple and effective methods can be easily implemented to improve the welfare of laboratory rats and reduce the cumulative suffering they experience. Animals living in an enriched environment with lower stress levels and improved well-being should provide a better model for research and are potentially more likely to generate more reliable and reproducible data with less variability.

Ewelina Knapska
Head of Neurobiology of Emotions Lab.
Vice-President of Centre of Excellence for Neural Plasticity and Brain
Disorders (BRAINCITY)
Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology

Talk title: Social learning about threats and rewards

Abstract: In social species, emotions displayed by others influence cognition and behavior of the interacting individuals. The capacity to be affected by or share emotional states is observed both in humans and rodents. It is believed that this capacity helps to build relationships because it fosters emotional synchrony between individuals. However, the utility of sharing emotion surpasses purely social function. Since to survive an animal must continuously learn about challenges and opportunities in its environment, emotions of other individuals can also be a source of valuable information. Thus, our rodent studies focus on the neuronal circuits underlying socially perceived emotions and their role in adaptation to the environment. In particular, we show that social cues convey information about the imminence of threat and that socially triggered responses recruit different neuronal circuits in the central amygdala. Further, we show that rodents socially transfer information about a distant food source through direct interaction with or a scent of an individual who encountered the food reward. We also show that socially acquired knowledge changes the patterns of exploration of familiar and novel environments. Thus, perceiving affective states of others evoked by a threat or a reward helps the individual to adapt its behavior and thus to avoid harm and maximize rewards. Therefore, perceiving others' emotions carries informational value, which offers a new perspective on the evolutionary origins of socially shared emotions.

Lubor Kostal

Vice Director

Centre of Biosciences

Institute of Animal Biochemistry and Genetics

Slovak Academy of Sciences

Bratislava, Slovakia

Talk title: Cognition, affective states, and chicken welfare

Abstract: Progress in the field of avian neuroscience goes hand in hand with documenting the surprising cognitive abilities of birds. Modern studies show that the basal ganglia occupy only a small part of the avian telencephalon, while the remainder is occupied by a large pallium homologous to the cerebral cortex of mammals. Recently, cortex-like canonical circuits have been identified in the avian forebrain. Bird brains have more neurons than mammalian brains and have very high neuronal densities. Although the cognitive performance of landfowl (including domestic chicken) does not reach the level of corvids, there is growing evidence of complex behaviour and cognitive skills in chickens. Chickens are smarter than the general public or even some experts thought. Improving the welfare of chickens would affect a large number of individuals since chickens represent the large majority of animals being raised for food (with ca 50 billion of them slaughtered each year). Affective states (emotions) are a key component of animal welfare. Therefore the use of the cognitive bias paradigm as a way to measure affective states in chickens sounds like a good idea. In our laboratory, we are designing and optimizing methods of judgment bias testing in chickens. Nevertheless, this process is not without problems.

Rui F. Oliveira

Professor of Behavioural Biology
Institute of Applied Psychology
Lisbon, Portugal

Principal Investigator
Integrative Behavioural Biology Lab
Champalimaud Neuroscience Program
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC)

Talk title: 'Optimism/pessimism effects on health and disease in zebrafish'


Biases have been hypothesized to evolve because the existence of biological limitations to decision making under ambiguity (e.g. information, processing, efficiency). The existence of evolutionary mechanisms explaining between-subjects variability in judgment biases opens the possibility for individuals exhibiting related phenotypes (e.g., optimists/pessimists) that may be relatively stable through time. Judgment bias can therefore be conceptualized as a stable feature of the individual and the occurrence of subjective perceptions that are consistent over time may be expected to explain inter-individual variations in the response to stressors and in the susceptibility to stress-related diseases. Judgment bias can therefore be hypothesized to drive differences in stress vulnerability. In our lab we have been using a behavioural ecological approach focused on zebrafish that is based on tools that strengthen methodology in the field of animal personality research. Considering this framework our results suggest that judgment bias may reflect not only a transient state but also a trait and be considered as a relatively stable feature of the individual. In this regard, judgment bias is a repeatable behaviour that is ecologically relevant and form part of a behavioural syndrome. Furthermore, we measured several physiological features of stress vulnerability, including cortisol levels, mr/gr ratio, and neurogenomic state, to address a potential association between judgment bias and stress vulnerability. Our data suggests that judgment bias drive divergences in vulnerable brain states that are mediated by chronic stress, which are associated to a different reactivity of the HPI axis.

Emma Robinson 

Professor of Psychopharmacology

School of Physiology, Pharmacology & Neuroscience

Faculty of Life Sciences

University of Bristol, UK

Talk title: 'Turning the glass from half empty to half full: neuropsychological mechanisms which could explain rapid acting antidepressant efficacy'

Abstract: The emergence of ketamine as a rapid-acting antidepressant has provided a new and exciting avenue for exploring both the mechanisms underlying antidepressant efficacy and the development of novel treatments. In this talk, I will describe our studies using the affective bias test to investigate the neuropsychological effects of both conventional and rapid-acting antidepressants. In this test of affective state-induced biases in reward learning and memory, rats learn two independent substrate-reward associations of equal value but which we show can be biased by affective state at the time of learning. Using this method, we show that conventional versus rapid-acting antidepressants exhibit dissociable effects when modulating new learning versus previously biased reward memories which may explain the temporal differences in their efficacy. We link these effects to specific brain regions and provide evidence of selective modulation of an 'affective bias circuit' by rapid-acting antidepressants. We also build from these data to propose a novel neuropsychological mechanism which could explain the both rapid and sustained antidepressant effects seen with drugs such as ketamine.

Oliver Robinson

Professor of Neuroscience and Mental Health 

Neuroscience and Mental Health Group Leader

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, UK

Talk title: 'Translational cognitive and computational perspectives on affective bias in mood and anxiety disorders'.

Abstract: Prof Robinson will discuss work from his lab developing trying to better understand the neurocognitive and computational processes underpinning affective bias in mood and anxiety disorders with a particular focus on human translational measures.

Dofinansowano z programu „Doskonała nauka” Ministra Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego.