ERC Starting Grants for three young VU Amsterdam scientists

VU Amsterdam scientists Wouter Halfwerk, Annelies Vredeveldt and Eva-Maria Merz have each received a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant of €1.5 million for their respective research into animal communication systems in urban areas, eyewitness accounts of serious crimes in a multicultural environment and into when, and under what circumstances, people do or do not become blood donors.

07/31/2018 | 4:53 PM

halfwerkAnimal communication systems in urban areas
Evolutionary biologist Wouter Halfwerk is planning to research how animal communication systems adapt to the changing environment in urban areas. Scientists know that the appearance of many city-dwelling animal species is different from that of forest or rural animals, but what exactly causes this or whether there is an evolutionary adaptation is not yet known. Are animals able to adapt their mating call directly to the various urban factors, such as light and noise pollution, or the presence or absence of predators? Or does the change take place by way of a selection process in which certain individuals perform better in the city than others? Halfwerk aims to find answers to these and other questions, together with a team of young researchers that is yet to be put together.
vredeveldtEyewitness statements in a multicultural environment
In our multicultural society, more and more people have to give their eyewitness accounts of serious crimes to investigators and legal professionals from a different cultural background. Eighty per cent of the cases currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court are of African sub-Saharan origin, while the investigators and judges are mainly from the West. In many court cases, eyewitness accounts are the only available evidence. Incomplete and inaccurate eyewitness reports can lead to incorrect convictions or unjustified acquittals. To counter this, legal psychologist Annelies Vredeveldt wants to investigate how culturally dependent variables influence the memory of eyewitnesses.
merzWhy do people help strangers?
Why do people repeatedly help strangers, even if this involves personal costs? Sociologist Eva-Maria Merzindicates that earlier research into pro-social behaviour has its shortcomings: it is contradictory, fragmented across different disciplines or limited to research within one country, no account is taken of contextual influences, and the dynamic character of pro-social behaviour is not recognized. According to Merz, an integrated model is needed, taking into account these elements. With her ERC Starting Grant, she wants to further develop and test this model using the example of blood donation. Merz sees blood donation as a prime example of pro-social behaviour in which a stranger, the patient, is helped at the expense of a donor.

European Research Council Starting Grant
The ERC Starting Grant is one of the most substantial grants in Europe for beginning researchers. Merz has previously received subsidies from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and Sanquin Research for her research into the life cycles of blood and organ donors. The Starting Grant is a European individual grant awarded to young, talented scientists who have already produced excellent work and are ready to lead their own research group.