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Giandomenico Iannetti

University College London
Learning from pain: towards a taxonomy of defensive behaviours
01 March 2017 -
31 July 2017

Giandomenico Iannetti is professor of neuroscience at University College London (UCL), where he leads an interdisciplinary research group (www.iannettilab.net) based at the Department of Neuroscience, Physiology and Pharmacology. He uses psychophysical and neurophysiological approaches to conduct experiments that investigate fundamental questions about human perception and behaviour. His research focuses on pain, defence and peripersonal space. His interdisciplinary research approach has led to collaborative publications with scholars from other fields such as computer science, engineering, linguistics, visual culture, and philosophy. He authored over 120 peer-reviewed papers and has been cited in more than 7,500 publications. He was the recipient of several awards, including the 2012 Patrick D. Wall Investigator Award for Basic Science from the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and the 2014 Camillo Golgi Prize from the Accademia dei Lincei. His research group is funded by programme grants from The Wellcome Trust and the European Research Council (ERC).

Research interests

Pain; Defence; Peripersonal space

Learning from pain: towards a taxonomy of defensive behaviours

The ability to move spontaneously and independently in the world is the hallmark of organisms belonging to the animal kingdom. The unique property of locomotion profoundly changes the way in which animals cope with environmental threats that constantly imperil their survival. Appropriate defence from environmental threats strongly relies on two key functions of the nervous system: the ability to (1) estimate the potential of environmental events to harm the body, and (2) deploy a motor repertoire that actually defends the organism from the potential injuries caused by environmental threats. Given that the potential damage caused by an environmental threat increases with proximity to the body, animals perform more effective defensive responses when threatening stimuli occur in a portion of space termed the defensive peripersonal space.
I plan to do theoretical work on the concept of peripersonal space and defensive responses, and investigate how these are shaped by pain and previous experiences. The concepts of peripersonal space and defence are closely related to some of the most human characteristics, including social interactions, cultural differences, and the use of tools.

Key publications

Giandomenico Iannetti, et al., « Beyond metaphor: contrasting mechanisms of social and physical pain », Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2013; 17(8):371-8

Giandomenico Iannetti, Rory John Bufacchi, « Gravitational cues modulate the shape of defensive peripersonal space », Current Biology, 26(21), November 2016, R1133-R1134

Giandomenico Iannetti and L. Hu, « Painful issues in pain prediction », Trends in Neurosciences, April 2016; 39(4):212-20

Giandomenico Iannetti, M. Liang  et al., « Primary Sensory Cortices Contain Distinguishable Spatial Patterns of Activity for Each Sense », Nature Communications, 2013; 4:1979

Giandomenico Iannetti and Frédérique de Vignemont, « How many peripersonal spaces? », Neuropsychologia, 2015; 70:327-34

Contemporary period (1789-…)
World or no region