Psychoanalysis Unit


Conference report: The Future of Neuroscience

24 June 2019

In May the UCL Psychoanalysis Unit hosted The Future of Neuroscience conference, showcasing the latest neuroscience research and how it can be practically applied in clinical practice.

With just shy of 300 attendees, the conference brought together a diverse array of delegates from all around the world including the US, South America, much of Europe, Israel, Jordan, South Africa, Singapore and Australia. Chaired by Psychoanalytic Studies PhD programme director Patrick Luyten, the conference had a particular focus on themes of attachment, mentalization, and the biology of relationships.  

Pascal Vrtička (Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany) gave a captivating presentation on future directions of attachment theory from the perspective of social neuroscience, highlighting the essential roles that social interactions play throughout our lives, from cradle to grave. This was complemented by Anna Buchheim’s work on the neuroscience of human attachment, and how its dysregulation can lead to mental illnesses like borderline personality disorder and depression. Ruth Feldman (IDC Herzliya, Israel) gave fascinating insights from her research on how relationships affect our brains.

Bart Boets (KU Leuven) detailed his research into autism, showing how cutting-edge imaging is enhancing our understanding of brain activity in people with autism. Showcasing work from the UCL Psychoanalysis Unit, Katerina Fotopoulou presented her research on embodied mentalization in eating disorders (you can watch an interview with Katerina here). Day one concluded with a lively and informal discussion between Peter Fonagy, Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at UCL, and Simon Baron-Cohen from the University of Cambridge.

Day two offered participants the opportunity to attend workshops aimed at applying neuroscience research to real-life practice. Workshop leaders were a mix of UCL and external experts, including Pasco Fearon (UCL), Patrick Luyten (UCL and KU Leuven), Nader Perroud (Université de Genève), Svenja Taubner (University of Heidelberg) and Martin Debbané (Université de Genève).

There were also 27 poster presentations showing research from academics and students in the field, including UCL PhD student Stefanella Costa Cordella who was interviewed about her poster presentation (read Stefanella’s interview here).

Feedback showed that delegates found the conference thought-provoking and inspiring, and that it was very useful for clinicians interested in the latest research. There was interest in future events on a similar theme.