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VU psychologist Joshua Tybur receives ERC Consolidator Grant

18 March 2022
313 new ERC Consolidator Grants to tackle big scientific questions.

Can social tipping lead to a quick transition to renewable energy sources? Can we make computer software secure? What did diplomacy look like in early modern south-eastern Europe? And how can the heart find the rhythm to its beat? 313 winners of the European Research Council’s latest round of Consolidator Grants, backed with 632 million euros, will tackle these and other major questions across all scientific disciplines. The funding will support mid-career researchers and will help them consolidate their teams and conduct pioneering research with methods of their choosing.

Joshua Tybur's project NONPHARM
How can we reduce the burden of infectious diseases – both those that circulate seasonally and those that spread across the world during pandemics? Joshua Tybur's project takes an evolutionary psychology approach to better understand nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) – behaviors that reduce the spread of pathogens. The COVID pandemic just gave us a taste of how infectious diseases can affect physical and mental well-being and batter economies. NPIs can reduce these negative consequences. 
Disgust and infectious disease 
Disgust has been widely identified as the emotion that motivates us to avoid things that can make us sick, such as bodily wastes and spoiled foods. However, disgust does little to inhibit transmission via aerosols or respiratory droplets – key pathways for the respiratory pathogens that circulate seasonally, have caused recent pandemics, and will likely cause the pandemics of the future. Tybur: “We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding disgust. But this progress hasn’t given us much insight into the psychology that underlies people’s decisions to engage in the less-intuitive NPIs that inhibit respiratory pathogens, like handwashing, creating barriers against respiratory droplets and aerosols, and self-isolating while infectious.” 
Better understanding NPIs 
In his project, Tybur will first aim to understand why NPI practices vary across and within societies. To do so, he will measure and explain cross-cultural differences and similarities in NPI practices across 50 nations, and he will measure NPI practices among Dutch twins and their parents to assess genetic and cultural transmission of NPIs within the Netherlands. Second, he will test the roles of folk theories of immunity, moralization, and conflicts between individual and collective interests affect NPI practices. Third, he will develop and test interventions for increasing handwashing and increasing voluntary quarantining while sick. Tybur: “Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, NPI practices were suboptimal. Influenza and many other viruses were already here, COVID isn’t gone, and the next pandemic might arrive earlier than we think. We need better knowledge about why people do and do not engage in NPIs. This project is designed to generate such knowledge.” 
About the ERC
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation. The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. Since 1 November 2021, Maria Leptin is the President of the ERC. The overall ERC budget from 2021 to 2027 is more than €16 billion, as part of the Horizon Europe programme, under the responsibility of the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel.