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Inside the emotional universe

Psychologist and researcher David Sander specialises in emotions and their effect on cognitive function. For his research at a crossroads of several disciplines, he was awarded the National Latsis Prize 2013.

David Sander is an affective science researcher whose work brings together several different disciplines all related to emotions, including the humanities, psychology, neuroscience, information technology, law and economics.

As a professor of psychology, Sander is convinced that psychological research will benefit from a conceptual analysis of phi-losophy combined with a better understanding of how our brain works. He advocates a multifaceted approach, firm in the belief that computer-generated imaging, psychophysiology, functional MRI, olfactometry and even virtual reality are all capable of teaching us more about the human mind. In recognition of his research, he was recently awarded the National Latsis Prize 2013.

Psychology and mathematics
Sander’s thirst for experiments and desire to make the most of every technological opportunity have placed him at the head of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) “Affective Sciences”. He is also in charge of the Interfaculty Centre for Affective Sciences at the University of Geneva, whose laboratory has been equipped to conduct complex experiments on emotions and their effect on certain cognitive functions, such as decision-making, memory and attention span.

Sander’s interest in emotions began with his study of cognitive science. In 1996, two years after beginning studies in both psychology and ap-plied mathematics in Paris, he headed to Lyon and a recently-launched cognitive science study programme. He soon began applying these tools to emotions. By using a multitude of approaches, he wanted to identify the mechanisms governing emotions and derive the underly-ing principles.

A mini revolution
Sander is particularly interested in understanding how we assess and hence perceive the emotional value of an event. In 2003, he sparked a mini revolution by publishing an article questioning the generally ac-cepted role of the amygdala.

At the time it was commonly believed that this almond-shaped structure constituted the brain’s “fear centre”. With his article, Sander was presenting an alternative hypothesis: according to him the amygdala had a much broader function, that of assessing the relevance of an event, and of informing us of what is important in terms of our goals, our values and our immediate well-being. With this hypothesis, he was establishing a connection between our emotions and what he calls “the heart of the mind”.

A multifaceted approach
Since 2013, Sander has been a professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Geneva. He is a prolific scientific author and has even co-authored a book about emotions written specifically for children.

At present, he and his colleagues are focusing their research on five components common to all emotions: physiological response, tendency to action, evaluation, expression (face, voice and body) and subjective feeling. Their work explores the processes triggered by emotions in the brain, the type of emotions elicited by smells and how social factors affect emotions.

An in-depth article on David Sander can be found in the latest edition of the Swiss research magazine “Horizons”, which has just been published: > Current issues > Research magazine Horizonte

Contact details of the winner:
Prof. David Sander
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
University of Geneva
Bld. du Pont d’Arve 40
CH-1205 Geneva
+41 22 379 92 12
Prizes of the Latsis Foundation
The Latsis Foundation was established in Geneva in 1975 by the Greek Latsis family. The Swiss National Science Foundation awards the National Latsis Prize on behalf of the Latsis Foundation. In addition, there are four university Latsis prizes worth 25,000 Swiss francs each, which are awarded by the University of Geneva, the University of St. Gallen, ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne respectively.

The National Latsis Prize, worth 100,000 Swiss francs, is one of Switzerland’s most prestigious scientific prizes. Awarded annually on behalf of the international Latsis Foundation by the SNSF, it honours the outstanding scientific achievements of researchers under the age of 40 working in Switzerland.

The thirtieth award ceremony will take place on 16 January 2014 as of 10:30 a.m. at the Rathaus in Berne. This event is open to all news media.
You can download a photograph of David Sander at: > Media > Press releases
The text and photo of this press release can be found on the website of the Swiss National Science Foundation:

Media - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw
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