SFI External Professor Mirta Galesic has received a large five-year grant from the European Research Council. (image: Kate Joyce for SFI)

SFI Professor Mirta Galesic has received a €3 million grant, to be distributed over the next five years, from the European Research Council (ERC) to study collective adaptation. 

The foundations of her project, Galesic says, “were initiated in the rich intellectual environment of the Santa Fe Institute and have profited from the unique possibilities for transdisciplinary theoretical development available at SFI.” She splits her time between SFI and the Complexity Science Hub (CSH) in Vienna, and will use the funds to study why collectives — from families to societies — can get stuck when tackling important problems like resolving longstanding conflicts or curbing the spread of disease. 

The ERC Advanced Grants are among the most prestigious and competitive funding schemes within the European Union. They provide long-term funding to one primary investigator to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects. The sole criterion for selection is excellence.

“Amid rapid technological changes and escalating global challenges, understanding our collective adaptation is crucial,” says Galesic. “Yet our scientific understanding here is lacking.” The project will explore theoretical and empirical approaches to understanding the cognitive and social mechanisms of collective adaptation. “This will help us understand how we can achieve positive collective developments and stay away from harmful paths,” she says.

This project will look for the underlying mechanisms driving collective adaptation. Galesic, along with SFI External Professor and CSH researcher Henrik Olsson and a team of postdoctoral fellows, Ph.D. students, and research assistants based at CSH will draw on tools from cognitive science, sociology, and computational modeling. 

“At the heart of our research lies the puzzle of collective adaptation — how human groups dynamically adjust their social structures and cognitive strategies to tackle multifaceted challenges,” says Galesic. “By developing computational models grounded in empirical research, we aim to unravel the intricate interplay between social learning, belief dynamics, and network structures within collectives.”

Galesic and her team plan to use the ERC grant to conduct extensive empirical tests, from running group experiments to conducting surveys about people’s collective behavior and beliefs. “These real-world results will help us to further improve and refine our theories and models of collective adaptation,” says Galesic. 

The grant also includes significant funds for workshops and research stays. “We plan to use these opportunities to further enhance the already existing collaborations between SFI and CSH, as well as foster other connections between the U.S.-based and European institutions,” says Galesic.

Read more at Complexity Science Hub