Are women really worse at parallel parking?

Why do people become hooligans? How does our brain react to other people’s emotions? These and many other questions will be considered on 6 November at the public symposium ‘Looking at people: The world of the social brain’, organised by the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC).

Social behaviour

The theme of the symposium will be the social mechanisms in the human brain. This theme was chosen to highlight the launch of the new LIBC hotspot ‘Social’, which brings together researchers who are investigating the processes underlying social behaviour. ‘Our research is not so much about humans as individuals, but more about the effect of the social context on human behaviour and the brain,’ explains social psychologist Félice van Nunspeet.


'Is the female brain really wired worse for parallel parking?’ asks Belle Derks, a psychologist at Utrecht University, for instance. At the symposium, she will discuss the function and effects of negative stereotypes in society. Social psychologist Naomi Ellemers (Utrecht University) will explain how the moral brain actually works. Her research is about the effects of status differences between groups. How do people react, for instance, when confronted with other people’s immoral behaviour? Or their own?


‘Another example here could be the banking sector,’ comments co-organiser and psychologist Gert-Jan Lelieveld. ‘We’ll be showing media clips about the banking crisis. On the basis of these clips, researchers will talk about which social processes they find in the brain.’ During the breaks, members of the audience can take part in small experiments themselves. ‘We will use these to demonstrate how people influence one another. So at this symposium you won’t just be sitting and listening. We’ll also be showing you how your own brain works, and how you yourself react to your environment,’ Lelieveld explains.

On the map

Félice van Nunspeet, together with other Leiden University psychologists, Gert-Jan Lelieveld, Lotte van Dillen and Lasana Harris, decided to launch the Social hotspot within the LIBC as a way to draw attention to the research on social neuroscience in Leiden. ‘The United States is leading the way in the field of social neuroscience, but it’s good to show that we’re also working on it here in the Netherlands and Europe,’ comments Dr van Nunspeet. She hopes that the public symposium will put this research area within Leiden University clearly on the map.

Annual public symposium

Tickets are still available for the public symposium 'Looking at people: The world of the social brain' on Friday 6 November in the Stadsgehoorzaal. The programme runs from 08.30 to 17.00 and participation is free of charge. Each year the LIBC, in conjunction with Leiden City Council, organises a public symposium in Leiden’s Stadsgehoorzaal. The aim is to share knowledge about the human brain with society in general and Leiden residents in particular.

(13 October 2015)

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Last Modified: 14-10-2015