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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded Consolidator Grants to UvA political scientist Tom van der Meer and psychologist Simon van Gaal. These prestigious grants are awarded to individual researchers and amount to around 2 million euros per project. They are intended for researchers who obtained their PhDs 7 to 12 years ago. The grants enable the academics to consolidate their position as independent researchers. Consolidator Grants were also awarded earlier in the year to UvA researchers Timothy Noël, Tommy Tse and Louis Vermeule

Tom van der Meer
Tom van der Meer. Foto: Dirk Gillissen

About the project: 

Prof. Tom van der Meer (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research): CRITICALTRUST: Healthy or harmful distrust? On the democratic relevance of political scepticism over blind (dis)trust 

Representative democracy requires a healthy dose of political scepticism towards its institutions. Blind distrust can induce alienation, whereas blind trust could make one susceptible to manipulation. However, to the extent that trust/distrust suggest a person has made a considered judgment, they could be helping to stimulate critical citizenship, civic engagement and vigilance. Nevertheless, the ‘two types of trust’ are commonly conflated in public debate and scientific research. CRITICALTRUST proposes a novel model of political (dis)trust to addresses that fundamental problem conceptually, theoretically and methodologically. Primary and secondary analysis of cross-national survey and experimental data will allow longstanding causal claims to be tested.

Simon van Gaal
Simon van Gaal. Foto: Josef de Gabriele

Dr Simon van Gaal (Psychology Research Institute, Brain & Cognition) 
Towards understanding human consciousness 

Consciousness is subjective experience, for example how it is to perceive a certain scene, to endure pain or to feel love(d). It can be argued that having such experiences is the main reason why life matters to us, and what may set us apart from non-living but otherwise smart 'things', such as robots, your phone and the internet. But what makes us conscious? And what happens when we lose it, for example during coma or when we fall asleep? Questions about the origin of conscious experience have troubled philosophers and scientists for long a time. In his ERC project, Simon van Gaal will study the neural and neurochemical processes that give rise to the subjectivity of our minds. He will administer specific pharmaceuticals to the brain while simultaneously measuring how this affects information processing between brain regions. Besides that, he will test how conscious experience is shaped by spontaneous fluctuations in bodily arousal, physical activity and interactions with our environment.