Gilles Pourtois - Anxiety and Cognition

Onderstaande beschrijving is in het Engels:

Gilles Pourtois graduated in psychology from the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) in 1997 and completed his PhD in 2002 at Tilburg University (The Netherlands). His dissertation was about “multisensory perception of affect”, namely how does the brain actually combine and integrate emotional signals conveyed by the visual (face) and auditory (voice) channels to yield a unitary percept. From 2003 till 2008, he was postdoc in the laboratory of Patrik Vuilleumier at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). There, they explored various cognitive neuroscience topics, including “emotional attention” (i.e.  the capture of selective attention by emotionally-relevant signals) and “visual object constancy” (i.e. which brain mechanisms enable the visual system to form stable representations of visual objects, despite dramatic changes in the retinal input from one encounter to the next?). Since October 2008, Gilles Pourtois started a research professorship at Ghent University (Belgium), thanks to an ERC starting grant.



How anxiety transforms human cognition: an affective neuroscience perspective (Anxiety and cognition)

Anxiety, a state of apprehension or fear, may provoke cognitive or behavioural disorders and eventually lead to serious medical illnesses. The high prevalence of anxiety disorders in our society sharply contrasts with the lack of clear factual knowledge about the corresponding brain mechanisms at the origin of this profound change in the appraisal of the environment. Little is known about how the psychopathological state of anxiety ultimately turns to a medical condition. The core of this proposal is to gain insight in the neural underpinnings of anxiety and disorders related to anxiety using modern human brain-imaging such as scalp EEG and fMRI. I propose to enlighten how anxiety transforms and shapes human cognition and what the neural correlates and time-course of this modulatory effect are. The primary innovation of this project is the systematic use scalp EEG and fMRI in human participants to better understand the neural mechanisms by which anxiety profoundly influences specific cognitive functions, in particular selective attention and decision-making. The goal of this proposal is to precisely determine the exact timing (using scalp EEG), location, size and extent (using fMRI) of anxiety-related modulations on selective attention and decision-making in the human brain. Here I propose to focus on these two specific processes, because they are likely to reveal selective effects of anxiety on human cognition and can thus serve as powerful models to better figure out how anxiety operates in the human brain. Another important aspect of this project is the fact I envision to help bridge the gap in Health Psychology between fundamental research and clinical practice by proposing alternative revalidation strategies for human adult subjects affected by anxiety-related disorders, which could directly exploit the neuro-scientific discoveries generated in this scientific project.