Evens Science Prize 2016
On the 24st of October 2016 the international expert jury of the Evens Science Prize 2016 decided unanimously to award the prize of €30.000 to a team of four researchers, Prof. dr. Patrick Haggard (University College London), Prof. Cleeremans (Université Libre de Bruxelles), dr. Caspar (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and dr. Christensen (City University London) for their research on how coercion changes the sense of agency in the human brain. Their compelling research brings together neuroscience and philosophy, and raises interesting questions for the organization of society.
The Evens Foundation has long focused on advancing the sciences in order to enlighten the mind and lead to a better society. It thus supports relevant scientific research in the framework of its Science Prize. The 2016 edition focused on research in the field of cognitive neuroscience that furthers understanding of our behaviour, whether individual or collective, with special emphasis on ethical, cooperative and altruistic aspects.
Involving both theory and laboratory experiment, the research of Prof. Haggard (University College London), Prof. Cleeremans (Université Libre de Bruxelles), dr. Caspar (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and dr. Christensen (City University London) provides insights into the importance and consequences of a disconnection between agency and responsibility. It indicates that, if you are coerced into taking an action, your sense of responsibility for it and its outcome is diminished.
In their research, they start from a psychological approach whilst working with neurophysiological data to prove their hypothesis. The findings have many implications, including the suggestion that our focus should be on the responsibility of those who give orders rather than on those who obey them. They also point to the need for social structures that train and manage social responsibility so as to avoid injustice. How can being and acting as an autonomous individual be embedded in social structures?
The focus on the importance of agency and the taking of responsibility in our communal life and, specifically, the effects of coercion on the sense of responsibility, are strongly aligned with the prize’s mission to further understanding of human behavior, with an emphasis on ethical aspects, cooperation and altruism. The jury praised the solidity of the proposal and the group’s facility in communicating in a very accessible way complex neuroscientific research backed by empirical data. Lastly, they strongly approved of the collaboration between two universities, the sharing of infrastructure and talent.
Jury of the Evens Science Prize 2016
Bernard Baertschi (CH), Lecturer and postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Ethics, History, and the Humanities, University of Geneva
Patrick Cras (BE), Head of the Neurology Department of the Antwerp University Hospital, Chair of the Ethical Commission of the Antwerp University Hospital and the University of Antwerp, chairman of the jury;
Uta Frith (UK), DBE, FRS, FBA, FMedSci, Professor emeritus at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London
Tomas Ros (HR), Postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva