Two Norwegian researchers win top EU grants

Kenneth Hugdahl and Christopher Henshilwood have each been awarded the highly-competitive Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). It marks the first time Norwegian researchers in the humanities and social sciences/psychology have received this prestigious grant

Professor Christopher Henshilwood

Professor Christopher Henshilwood

Professor Henshilwood will receive roughly NOK 20 million over five years from the EU to investigate the relationship between climate change and human behaviour. Professor Hugdahl has been awarded the same amount to conduct research on schizophrenic patients who hear voices. Both researchers work at the University of Bergen.

Studying climate’s effect on behavior

In the TRACSYMBOLS project, Professor Henshilwood and his research partners will study how environmental changes affected the primary behavioural traits of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals in southern parts of Africa and Europe.

“Our approach will set a new standard for understanding the behavioural evolution of our ancestors within an environmental and ecological framework,” states Professor Henshilwood.

His grant proposal combined current knowledge about Homo sapiens in Africa and Neanderthals in Europe with findings from recent excavations in South Africa and new research techniques from Europe. “We then applied this knowledge in the context of a project that will reconstruct the climate as it was 180,000 to 25,000 years ago,” explains Professor Henshilwood.

Christopher Henshilwood is a professor of African archaeology at the University of Bergen’s Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion. “The ERC grant will enable us to strengthen African archaeology research at the university and establish long-term research activities encompassing southern Africa, Europe and the Near East.”

Professor Kenneth Hugdal. Photo: University of Bergen

Professor Kenneth Hugdahl. Photo: University of Bergen

Seeking the origins of auditory hallucinations

“Hearing voices is one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia, but it is not unusual for normal, healthy people to experience this phenomenon as well,” says Professor Kenneth Hugdahl of the University of Bergen’s Department of Biological and Medical Psychology.

“The main difference is in how people deal with hearing voices,” explains Professor Hugdahl. “Psychologically healthy individuals who experience it know that the voice originates from within oneself.”

In the research project VOICE, Professor Hugdahl will study the brains of schizophrenics and healthy people who hear voices, with the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), among other tools. MRI machines use magnetic and radio-frequency pulses to form images of the brain’s functions.

“In the grant proposal I focused heavily on how schizophrenics’ auditory hallucinations occur in the brain. It would be a tremendous breakthrough to locate the mechanisms in the brain that cause schizophrenics to hear voices,” says Professor Hugdahl.

In addition, his project team will search for the mechanisms that govern the inner control in healthy individuals that enables them to interpret the voices they hear as their own thoughts.

Professor Hugdahl’s project draws upon specialists and theories from a number of fields, creating a new synthesis that incorporates elements of neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience and psychiatry.

Source: Research Council of Norway

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