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ERC Proof of Concept grants for VU researchers

18 January 2024
Nienke van Atteveldt, professor of neuroscience and society at VU Amsterdam, and Tieme Janssen, an associate professor, have received a Proof of Concept (PoC) grant of 150,000 euros from the European Research Council (ERC) for the project Explore Your Brain 2.0. Professor of Donor Behavior Eva-Maria Merz has received it for her project Learning to Donate (LEARN-DO) and sociologist Dimitris Pavlopoulos for the project COMBINE.

Nienke van Atteveldt and Tieme Janssen
Nienke van Atteveldt and Tieme Janssen are leading the Explore Your Brain 2.0 project, which aims to develop a maximally effective, user-friendly, and scalable growth mindset intervention to break through the declining motivation and academic performance of adolescents. This PoC subsidy is based on the ERC Starting Grant "BRAINBELIEFS," in which the research team discovered that allowing students to experience the plasticity of their brains can stimulate a growth mindset.
Van Atteveldt stated, "Adolescence is a period of sharp declines in school motivation and performance, with negative consequences not only for the academic success and mental well-being of young people but also for teachers and parents."

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Eva-Maria Merz
Professor of Donor Behavior Eva-Maria Merz will receive an ERC PoC grant for the Learning to Donate project (LEARN-DO).
Without blood donors, there are no blood products to transfuse and no plasma for pharmaceutical drug production. Four million patients are annually treated with blood-derived products in Europe, given by voluntary donors. Yet, as little as 2-3% of the population is registered as donor and donor numbers are decreasing. At the same time, the demand for specific blood products is increasing. Hence, it is crucial that a country’s donor pool is sufficient to ensure access to every needed blood type and plasma product. Targeted recruitment and retention of donors is vital to meet these demands. 

LEARN-DO will develop and market a fun and interactive knowledge intervention to stimulate key motivators and overcome key barriers for individuals to become a donor. We target two main stakeholder groups with this intervention. Individuals (children and adults) - potential future donors - and blood collection agencies that need to recruit donors to meet demands. We propose three installation elements that manipulate key barriers and motivators of blood donation. A Donor Picture Pillar that provides information about blood donation and shows patient and donor stories. A "Donation Experience" to decrease fears and psychological distance towards blood donation and a Conversation Couch to stimulate talking about donation. LEARN-DO can thoroughly change the recruitment of future donors and improve the recruitment strategy of blood collection agencies by making them more evidence-based, fun and interactive and targeted to specific groups, including families and members from ethnic minorities.

Dimitris Pavlopoulos
Measurement uncertainty in socioeconomic data may hinder effective policy making. Correcting for measurement uncertainty, could result in an improved picture of how social phenomena evolve in time. COMBINE explores whether a statistical model (a so-called hidden Markov model) could assist Statistics Netherlands (CBS) to correct for measurement uncertainty in the production of official statistics on social assistance benefits. Practically, the statistical model triangulates information from two different sources (the municipal register and the Employment register). COMBINE thus explores the feasibility of producing model-based error-corrected statistics by National Statistical Institutes. An important question is whether COMBINE will be more efficient than the current practices of data-quality improvement that are currently applied.

COMBINE is carried out by VU Amsterdam in collaboration with Statistics Netherlands and, in particular, with its Department of Demographic and Socioeconomic Statistics. COMBINE results in a proof of concept for official statistics on social assistance benefits corrected for measurement uncertainty. The method that COMBINE explores is not restricted to social assistance benefits. COMBINE delivers an implementation plan for other official statistics and a dissemination plan for approaching policymakers and other users of the statistics. As the method is applicable to a wide range of topics, the project contributes to evidence-based policy-making.

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