News Release 

Portsmouth professor to share in €600 million funding to Europe's top researchers

University of Portsmouth

Professor Bridget Waller from the University of Portsmouth has been named today (10 December 2019) as one of the top researchers in Europe who will share in €600 million funding.

The newly awarded EU-funding is from the European Research Council (ERC), as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, which is worth €600 million in total. Professor Waller is one of 301 top scientists and scholars across Europe who are winners of the ERC's Consolidator Grant competition.

Professor Waller's project 'Individual differences in facial expressivity: Social function, facial anatomy and evolutionary origins', also known as FACEDIFF, will run for five years and receive just under £1.7million. The project also involves collaborators at the University of Liverpool and the MRC Centre for Macaques.

The project will examine how people differ in the facial expressions they produce and how this is related to differences in underlying facial anatomy. There will also be a primate comparison (macaques) to examine whether face 'personalities' are specific to humans or common across species.

Professor Waller, who is Director of the University's Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology, said: "Communicating with others via the face is crucial for navigating our social world. Difficulties with facial expression production can have debilitating effects on social interaction, particularly with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.

"Despite this, we know surprisingly little about individual differences in facial expressions, what causes these differences and how such differences impact on individual lives.

"This project will be the first to provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary perspective on individual differences in facial expression and will stimulate new theories on the function and evolution of individual differences in humans."

FACEDIFF will combine psychological, anatomical and cross-species approaches to investigate individual differences. First, individual variation in the production and perception of facial expressions will be measured via laboratory experiments. Second, variation in human facial musculature will be documented through cadaveric dissection and existing MRI databases. Third, facial expressivity will be examined in primates to determine whether patterns are unique to humans.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: "Knowledge developed in these new projects will allow us to understand the challenges we face at a more fundamental level, and may provide us with breakthroughs and innovations that we haven't even imagined. The EU's investment in frontier research is an investment in our future, which is why it is so important that we reach an agreement on an ambitious Horizon Europe budget for the next multiannual budget. More available research funding would also allow us to create more opportunities everywhere in the EU - excellence should not be a question of geography."

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, whose mandate ends on 31 December after six years in office, commented: "I have had the immense privilege of seeing thousands of bright minds across our continent receive the trust and backing to go after their most daring ideas. It has been an exhilarating experience through countless meetings with many of them in person, listening to their stories and being inspired by them. As it's about top frontier research, it comes as no surprise that an overwhelming number of them already made breakthroughs that will continue to contribute greatly to meeting the challenges ahead. As I bid farewell to an organisation that will always remain close to my heart, I am once more highly impressed when I see this latest set of grantees funded by the European Research Council. That the ERC empowers them makes me proud to be European!"

The grantees will carry out their projects at universities and research centres in 24 different countries across Europe, with Germany (52 grants), the United Kingdom (50), France (43) and Netherlands (32) as leading locations. In this competition, researchers of 37 nationalities received funding, amongst them are notably Germans (55 grants), French (33), Dutch (28) and Italians (23).

The research projects proposed by the new grantees cover a wide range of topics in physical sciences and engineering, life sciences, as well as social sciences and humanities.

The ERC received 2,453 research proposals this time, out of which approximately 12 per cent will be funded - 31 per cent of grants were awarded to female applicants. This new round of grants should create around 2,000 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff working in the grantees' research team.

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