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“Brain, culture and society” program

Because it has the capacity to attract the best and brightest international researchers, the Paris IAS has the ambition of initiating projects that can generate innovative knowledge and challenge established frameworks of thought.

In the same way that the life sciences, and in particular neurosciences, cannot claim to fully understand the human being without relying on the knowledge produced by the humanities, it becomes difficult and damaging to continue to study human action and consciousness in the humanities and social sciences, without integrating the achievements of neuro-anatomical and neuro-functional studies.
The IAS has therefore chosen to open a privileged dialogue between the human sciences, psychology and neurosciences, and in particular cognitive neurosciences, which study the neurobiological mechanisms and psychological phenomena underlying cognition. Particular attention is paid to subjects related to major societal issues : child development and ageing, addictions, the effect of new digital and information technologies, tolerance and aggressiveness... The objective of this dialogue is to enable the human and social sciences, as well as the brain sciences, to renew their approaches to classical objects and to invest new fields of research with bold and innovative projects.

By hosting neuroscience researchers in residence (from a few weeks to one academic year) in an environment composed mainly of experts in the humanities and social sciences, the Institute creates the possibility for otherwise improbable exchanges and confrontations with different ways of thinking.

Directly related to the Île-de-France research community, the IAS also organizes several events each year –from the half-day workshop to international conferences– bringing together specialists from the brain and life sciences (neuroscientists, psychologists and psychiatrists) and HSS researchers.

2022-2023 Call for Applications

Three research themes are particularly highlighted in the next call for applications.

♦ City Design and the Brain: a Dialogue Between Architecture and Neuroscience

This area deals with the interdisciplinary approaches to the relation between architecture and neuroscience in the construction of environments that can contribute to health and well-being in urban settings.
Planning cities today implies being faced with complex challenges and oftentimes having to solve contradictory requirements. A considerable amount of studies is devoted to these questions. The present project is focusing on the issues of correlated time and spatial scales and ways to leverage these to improve urban design getting inspiration from neurosciences.
Traditional approaches to tackling health, education, working spaces design and related flows (of energy, information, people) tend to be addressed as silos. Having separation lines between these domains hinder coherent planning of new cities, or modern adaptation of old ones.
Living organisms had to solve similar design problems throughout evolution. Recent knowledge in neurosciences and social neurosciences about brain mechanisms could help finding principles to tackle this complexity.
Applications on this theme should relate to the accumulated knowledge about cognitive strategies for spatial orientation, spatial memory and exploration, exploitation, navigation, and the way in which the brain deals with different action spaces and multiple geometries in relation to the planning of urban environments.

♦ Psychomotricity and the regulation of impulsivity and inhibition

Psychomotor organisation and behavioural regulation depend on delicate balances between the synergies of brain and behavioural functions in relation to socio-cultural norms and individual goals. The environmental, technological, biological, and social contexts of the modern world require adaptations and bring into play multiple levels of control. If the individual's resources are in excess or insufficient, a homeostatic imbalance can lead to stress-related syndromes that manifest themselves in psychomotor, cognitive, and psychiatric disorders.
Although stress-related disorders, sometimes referred to as diseases of civilisation, have a very high social and economic cost, and although much research is being conducted worldwide to better understand the factors related to their prevention and treatment, the issue of the balance between inhibition and impulsivity in these reactions has not been well studied. Approaches such as "embodied cognition", psychoanalysis, psychosomatics, "meditation", "sophrology", and "hypnosis", attempt to provide solutions for dealing with problems related to impulse-control, e.g. in relation to hyperactivity, and "acting out" behaviour.
The focus will be placed on the question of the balance between inhibition and impulsivity as it manifests itself at the behavioural and social level in modern societies, in stress-related-disorders, pathological behaviours such as ADHD, or more generally in deficits of attention or violent behaviours. We shall consider the potential contribution of non-medical treatment methods (for instance "psychomotor" approaches) and their social and economic implications. Applications in this area call for a collaboration between neurology, physiology, psychology, and the humanities and social sciences.

♦ “Future minds”: the societal implications of the methods of cognitive augmentation and memory modification

Neurotechnologies for human cognitive augmentation are already in use in the areas of communication, memory, attention, and problem solving, and will be further developed in the coming years. Today, invasive technologies such as deep brain stimulation are common practice in the treatment of epilepsy and movement disorders, and they are under investigation for use in depression, OCD, Alzheimer’s disease, and other disorders.
Although these technologies will be mainly applied to the treatment and improvement of the quality of life for patients with neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, they will also be used to improve the cognitive performance of healthy individuals in normal everyday life, and most certainly in military research and future warfare. The manipulation of memory is of special interest in this context. Memory is tied to the sense of self and identity, and memory modification has implications at the individual level with respect to individual autonomy and personhood - and at the social level for the economic, legal, and cultural future of our societies.
These concerns and their implications for the human and social sciences must be reflected in the project applications on this theme.

The support group of the “Brain, culture and society” program

The Paris IAS has appointed a group of outstanding interdisciplinary researchers in order to support the development of the HSS-Neuroscience program, to assist in the selection of the themes to be taken up in workshops and conferences, and to give suggestions for the researchers that could be invited for a stay at the institute.

The committee meets about three times per year and consists of:

  • Alain Berthoz, Collège de France (Neuroscience), Chair
  • David COHEN, Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière (Psychiatry)
  • Julie GRÈZES, Inserm - École normale supérieure (Neuroscience)
  • Étienne KOECHLIN, Inserm, École normale supérieure (Neuroscience)
  • Lionel NACCACHE, Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière, Sorbonne
    Université (Neuroscience)
  • Elisabeth PACHERIE, CNRS (Philosophy)
  • Denis PESCHANSKI, CNRS (History)
  • François RECANATI, Collège de France (Philosophy)
  • Catherine TALLON-BEAUDRY, École normale supérieure (Neuroscience)