Welcome

Welcome to my personal website. It is mainly a repository for my papers, but increasingly also for the data and code supporting these papers.

I have a broad interest in human behaviour and in how the brain orchestrates this behaviour. My current research topics range from the decoding of psychological processes from the brain, to investigating brain responses with naturalistic stimuli (movies), to the neural underpinnings of cheating and deception, and to the role of context in decision-making. These research lines are outlined briefly below. Past lines of research include the role of hormones in behaviour and brain processes, the neural substates of emotions, goal-directed motivation and their control, performance monitoring and the impact of fatigue on cognition.


Decoding psychological processes from the brain

The human psyche pretty much remains a black box: we can observe or even manipulate the input a person’s psychological system receives, but not the feelings or cognitive processes that are evoked by this input. Likewise, we can observe the decisions made by the system, but not the feelings or cognitive processes that drove these decisions. In this line of research, we decode these latent processes or states from the brain, using machine learning methods applied to distributed pattern of brain activity.
For example, in two studies (one using EEG, and one using fMRI), we presented participants with video content while measuring activity from their brains. Using machine learning, we trained classifiers to accurately decode the emotional experience evoked by these videos in our participants. As another example, in every-day life we observe large differences in honesty and fairness across individuals. In a set of two studies (using fMRI), we decode idiosyncrasies in the underlying motivations for honesty and fairness. We find that particularly individual differences in the engagement of cognitive control and theory of mind drive differences in prosocial behaviour.

Brain decoding


Brains at the movies

In the past, research in neuroscience has used decontextualized stimuli and highly artificial experimental designs to study the neural substrate of cognitive processes. Although this approach has been very successful, as it allows for tightly controlled experiments and straightforward interpretation of results, it has left open the question of how the brain responds to events in more naturalistic settings. In this line of research, we address this issue by investigating how brain processes unfold during movie watching.
We find that we can track emotions, engagement and preference that follow the narrative of the presented videos. In addition, we observe that we can not only predict how well individual participants will like the movie they are watching, but also how well others will like this movie. That is, we can predict, from brain activity measured during movie-watching in a small set of participants, to what extent a different set of participants will like this movie, and even estimate how well the movie will do at the box office.

Brains at the movies


Cheating, unfairness and deception

Dishonest behaviour, such as tax evasion, music piracy or fraud, is highly prevalent in our society and inflicts huge economic costs. Every day, we are faced with the conflict between the temptation to cheat and deceive for financial gains and maintaining a positive image of ourselves as being a ‘good person’. In this line of research, we investigate the psychological and neural underpinnings of decisions to either cheat and deceive, or to remain fair and honest.
We find that particularly individual differences in the engagement of cognitive control and theory of mind drive decisions to be fair and honest (or not). For example, in one study we found that cognitive control may override an individual’s moral default, allowing honest people to cheat, whereas it enables cheaters to be honest. These insights contribute to a deeper understanding of individual differences in honesty and may aid in developing more targeted interventions aiming at reducing dishonesty.

Brains at the movies

Updated by Maarten Boksem on December 12, 2019 Comments (0)

From the Media

All in the mind?
Businesses spend considerable resources on crafting and broadcasting messages, but how much do we know has gotten into the consumer’s head, and how much has just flown past? Cue neuromarketing. Both an emerging field of academic research and a nascent industry, the goal of neuromarketing is simple: to gain marketing insight through the application of neuroscience. Instead of asking customers to tell us what they think, neuromarketers directly measure how their brains react. Paper
Brain scans reveal engagement levels of videos
When consumers are exposed to videos, they generally show some level of engagement. What if we could predict when consumers would strongly engage with such content by analysing the neural activity that takes place during subconscious processes in their brains? Businesses and other organisations could then optimise their video towards higher levels of engagement. Hang-Yee Chan recently published results that revealed it is possible to predict levels of consumer engagement with a video by showing it to a small group of viewers and measuring their brain responses. Paper
Tracking emotions real time in the brain
Emotions play a key role in our behaviour. Studies have shown that many of the decisions we make are driven by emotions. But measuring emotions has been proven difficult. PhD candidate Esther Eijlers, Dr Maarten Boksem and Prof. Ale Smidts of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) have developed a new method to measure and track emotions in the brain in real time with electroencephalography (EEG). For the first time, they can see, moment to moment, which emotions people experience when they watch something. Paper
Identifying strong brands in the brain.
Brand managers need to know how consumers perceive their brands. Do consumers actually have the ‘right’ associations with brands as intended by the companies? And are these associations consistent, or are they vastly different across consumers? Until recently, all that brand managers could do to find out, was to trust what consumers told them. But no longer. Researchers Hang-Yee Chan, Maarten Boksem and Ale Smidts from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), literally looked inside people’s heads and discovered that brand image and brand image strength are clearly visible in our brains. Paper
Brain scans reveal what makes a TV advert effective.
What is it about a TV advert that triggers people to find the product online? Scanning consumers’ brains has allowed Linda Couwenberg of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) to discover that a TV advert works best when it both highlights a product’s functional benefits and triggers the viewer’s imagination. This particular combination of elements activates specific parts of the viewer’s brain most intensely, she found, which makes the advert more effective. Paper
Can brain responses to movie trailers predict success?
Decades of research have shown that much of our mental processing occurs at the subconscious level, including the decisions we make as consumers. These subconscious processes explain why we so often fail to accurately predict our own future choices. Often what we "think" we want has little or no bearing on the choices we actually make. Now a new study provides the first evidence that brain measures "can" provide significant added value to models for predicting consumer choice. Paper

Updated by Maarten Boksem on July 18, 2019 Comments (0)