Pascal Vrtička

Pascal Vrtička
University of Essex · Department of Psychology

PhD in Neuroscience
Assistant Professor / Lecturer in Psychology, University of Essex (Colchester, UK). PI of SoNeAt Lab.


How we measure 'reads'
A 'read' is counted each time someone views a publication summary (such as the title, abstract, and list of authors), clicks on a figure, or views or downloads the full-text. Learn more
I am a social cognitive affective neuroscientist with strong ties to developmental and biological psychology. My interdisciplinary research focuses on normal as well as disturbed functioning of the human social brain. I use neuroimaging (fMRI, fNIRS, EEG), biological methods ([epi]genetics, blood and saliva samples for immune system functioning assessment and telomere length measurement), psychological questionnaires & narrative-based methods, and behavioral assessment as main research tools. My participants are adults, adolescents, as well as children, both female and male.
Additional affiliations
March 2020 - present
University of Essex
  • Lecturer
January 2019 - February 2020
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
  • Senior Researcher
November 2015 - December 2018
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
  • Group Leader
January 2006 - December 2009
University of Geneva
Field of study
  • Neurosciences
October 1999 - May 2005
ETH Zurich
Field of study
  • Neurosciences


Cited By


Projects (14)
As part of the virtual mini-conference series organised by the Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies (SEAS), the Special Interest Research Group on the Social Neuroscience of Human Attachment (SIRG SoNeAt) is organising a two-day conference with the title "Attachment from a Social Neuroscience Perspective". The conference will be held online on September 23rd and 24th, 2021. Abstract submission (individual papers & complete symposia) is now open. Submission deadline: August 31st, 2021. For more information, please see: For abstract submission and registration, please see: For questions, please contact SIRG SoNeAt by email: sirg.soneat (at)
This project combines three studies that were set up at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany: CARE, D-CARE, and M-CARE. The idea behind these studies is to combine several aspects of attachment research with state-of-the-art social neuroscience techniques with the aim of advancing attachment theory within the 21st century. The CARE studies are a large collaborative effort involving researchers from the University of Vienna, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, University of Leipzig, and University of Virginia. The CARE studies comprise the following main elements: -fNIRS hyperscanning in parent-child dyads (child age 5 years) using a collaborative versus independent puzzle-solving task (in addition to a free conversation or pre-school sheet completion task) to derive inter-brain coherence and bio-behavioral synchrony within the parent-child dyad. -Video recordings during fNIRS and ratings of interaction according to several attachment-theory derived coding schemes. Self-report questionnaires and narrative measures (adult attachment interview; story stems) of attachment and caregiving in parents and children. -(f)MRI scanning in parents to assess brain anatomy and function in relation with inter-individual differences in attachment and caregiving. Associations between the above elements.
Project Alpha is a novel and ambitious endeavor. It aims at exploring the epigenetic antecedents) of personality and attachment style development - i.e. the process by which the environment shuts off and/or turns on DNA transcription. Project Alpha consists of a unique and visionary longitudinal research program that begins with 1,500 couples and follows them throughout pregnancy, the birth of their first child, and that child's development over time. At each time point, we will sample participants (triads of mother, father, and child) on genetics, epigenetics, and phenotype (i.e., who they are – how they think, feel, and behave). The main objective of Project Alpha is to bridge a known phenomenon called the transmission gap. Initial applied research into personality development and the associated intergenerational transmission of personality primarily focused on environmental factors within the family context, and in particular caregiver sensitivity. Such approach, however, can only account for a limited amount of variance in the acquired data, which lead researchers to postulate the so-called transmission gap – the latter suggesting that a purely environmental explanation of personality transmission and formation was insufficient. Subsequent attempts to disclose predominantly genetic mechanisms of personality emergence in terms of allelic DNA variation as an alternative approach to explain variance also proved evasive. An experimental shift in focus on a gene by environment interaction was consequently suggested by means of epigenetic mechanisms. Within this context, the most widely studied epigenetic process in animals as well as humans is DNA methylation, which refers to a chemical modification of DNA bases at so-called CpG islands (a DNA strand that is the target of epigenetic modification) close to, or within gene promoters. Within this context, higher methylation levels are usually associated with lower rates of gene transcription and thus functioning. In Project Alpha, we will mainly focus on the epigenetic makeup to offer new insights regarding the above-described transmission gap.