Understanding how we understand each other

My research aims to model and understand how social life develops in individuals and over generations. This project is enabled by the NWO Research Talent Grant of the Dutch government (NWO).

Feelings and social life

I study feelings and moods as self-organising patterns that span our entire bodies – they shape the way we tend to act overall, but also much faster processes that happen in our bodies, down to individual cells. Our mode of action depends on whether we feel relaxed or depressed, excited or anxious. So for social animals that care for each other and work together – like us – it is crucial to track each other's feelings. A mother responds to the distress of her baby; a child checks whether its parents are satisfied; a lover consoles his or her partner when sad; a coach gives a peptalk when the team morale is low.

Once we understand this emotional basis of social life, we can model how groups develop over generations: culture.

Technical summary

  1. I study the emergence of social life in the context of neurocognitive evolution and development, using formal theory and high-performance computing.
  2. I use principles that combine formal information-theoretic concepts with dynamical systems theory to understand how living systems maintain themselves ("active inference").
  3. To further current neuroscientific accounts of social cognition, I am developing a robust and tractable theory of emotional inference based on active inference.
  4. I plan to use that framework to construct a computational ecology of multiple agents.
  5. I simulate their neurocognitive co-evolution towards functional interactions enabled by shared expectations.


PhD Social Neuroscience, University of Amsterdam

Funded by a Research Talent Grant of the NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research)


MSc Cognitive Neuroscience (Cum Laude), University of Amsterdam, NL

MSc Gravitational Astroparticle Physics (Cum Laude), University of Amsterdam, NL

BSc Psychology (Summa Cum Laude), University of Groningen, NL

BSc Astronomy (Summa Cum Laude), University of Groningen, NL

Curriculum Vitae



  • 20+ peer-reviewed publications
  • 590+ citations
  • h-index = 11
  • i10-index = 11

Google Scholar





Amsterdam Brain and Cognition Center (ABC), University of Amsterdam

Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), University of Amsterdam

Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging , University College London