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How Humans/children develop social skills: €1.5M ERC funding to examine the Cognitive Neuroscience behind the development of a “Social Brain”

Humans are inherently social creatures and our understanding of the world is shaped from the very beginning by the social interactions we observe and engage in. As a consequence, we are truly excellent at extracting information from social scenes. We can quickly discern if two people are cooperating or competing, flirting or fighting, and helping or hindering each other. Most important of all, we swiftly learn a great deal about people from observing their interactions with others – even a brief interaction give us important clues about their personality, their social abilities and their current mood. How does this remarkable skill develop? What are its brain bases? How is this kind of “social interaction perception” related to real-world social ability and social learning across development?

These are questions that Dr. Kami Koldewyn, a neuroscientist based at Bangor University’s leading School of Psychology, hopes to answer, thanks to a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

 

 

 


ERC Starting Grant of €1.8M awarded to Emily Cross

Emily Cross, a social neuroscientist based at Bangor University’s leading School of Psychology, has been awarded a major European Research Council Starting Grant of €1.8M to investigate the under-studied area if human-robot interaction in a project entitled ‘Social Robots: Mechanisms and Consequences of Attributing Socialness to Artificial Agents’.

She explains: “A great deal of research has gone into developing robots to make them more socially engaging or acceptable. As this technology advances, we are going to see increasing use of artificial intelligence in human-centred settings in the coming decades.

“Some research suggests that we are happy to interact with robots for around 10 hours, after which we start to disengage. I’m interested in how our perception of robots changes across these 10 hours, and whether it’s possible to extend this ‘10 hour barrier’, as this will be important if we will be interacting with robots more frequently or for long time periods.”

“We know that humans are very social animals, and also that the human brain is incredibly plastic and is shaped by all manner of experiences. One of my major questions concerns how brain activity changes when we interact with social robots over an extended period of time, and the extent to which we use neurocognitive mechanisms that have evolved to support social interaction with other people when we engage with robots. I am also interested in how age and cultural background influence the development of social relationships with robots.”

Emily will be studying different age groups in her research (ranging from young toddlers to older adults), and also aims to explore the impact of cultural differences on human-robot interaction by involving people both in North Wales and Tokyo, Japan, where high-tech gadgets and social robots are already becoming commonplace.

The award, made to early career researchers, and lasting five years, will also enable Dr Cross to build her own research team within her Social Brain in Action Laboratory (www.soba-lab.com), as well as developing her fascinating area of research.

This is one of 48 grants awarded in UK across the physical sciences, life sciences and social sciences, and the only award granted to a UK-based scientist from the ‘Human Mind and Its Complexity’ research domain.