Research Work in Psychology and Neurosciences

The meeting of neuroscience and contemplative practices offers rich possibilities for change. I continue to support research projects on meditation, well-being and the mind.

My path began as a researcher in cognitive neuroscience. I have studied emotions, their effects on the brain and how our perception of them changes with our personal characteristics, our sensory and social environment and certain mental disorders. I have also studied the perception of music and voice and their associated brain waves.

Nicolas Escoffier running an EEG experiment

Today, I am continuing on this path and contribute to studies focused on contemplative sciences, the benefits of exposure to Nature, and mental well-being. You will find below a presentation of a recent study combining neuroscience and spiritual practices, and my scientific publications so far.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or propositions for collaboration.

Neuroscience and spirituality: meeting the medium-shamans of Singapore

This study was born from rare encounters with the spirit mediums from the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia.

In conversation with the mediums, we examined the reactions and brain waves of spectators of the rituals they perform, which are often very intense.

We were able to reveal the crucial role that emotions and brain waves synchronization play in these rituals. We also gained a better understanding of the important role the rituals play for the participants and for the broader community..

medium-chamane de singapour
Here, the medium (or dangki) is channelling the white deity, who is said to be able to determine a person’s lifespan. Ronni Pinsler Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.

The study was designed and conducted by me and Philip Cho, historian. We benefited from contributions by the social anthropology team led by Harvey Whitehouse at Oxford, from technical assistance from Yinan Mao and April Ching, and from the help of Christopher Green and Victor Yue. The work was funded by the Franklin-Fetzer Fund of the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust and the John Templeton Foundation.

Cho, P. S., Escoffier, N., Mao, Y., Ching, A., Green, C., Jong, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Groups and Emotional Arousal Mediate Neural Synchrony and Perceived Ritual Efficacy. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02071

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Our science is a drop, our ignorance a sea. ― William James

My Scientific Publications

The benefits of exposure to nature

Olszewska-Guizzo, A., Fogel, A., Escoffier, N., & Ho, R. (2021). Effects of COVID-19-related stay-at-home order on neuropsychophysiological response to urban spaces: Beneficial role of exposure to nature? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 75, 101590. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2021.101590
Olszewska-Guizzo, A., Escoffier, N., Chan, J., & Puay Yok, T. (2018). Window View and the Brain: Effects of Floor Level and Green Cover on the Alpha and Beta Rhythms in a Passive Exposure EEG Experiment. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(11), 2358. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15112358

Social and spiritual practices and the brain

Cho, P. S., Escoffier, N., Mao, Y., Green, C., & Davis, R. C. (2020). Beyond physical entrainment: Competitive and cooperative mental stances during identical joint-action tasks differently affect inter-subjective neural synchrony and judgments of agency. Social Neuroscience, 15(3), 368–379. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2020.1727949
Cho, P. S., Escoffier, N., Mao, Y., Ching, A., Green, C., Jong, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Groups and Emotional Arousal Mediate Neural Synchrony and Perceived Ritual Efficacy. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02071
Escoffier, Nicolas, Zhong, J., Schirmer, A., & Qiu, A. (2013). Emotional expressions in voice and music: Same code, same effect? Human Brain Mapping, 34(8), 1796–1810. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.22029
Schirmer, Annett, Teh, K. S., Wang, S., Vijayakumar, R., Ching, A., Nithianantham, D., Escoffier, N., & Cheok, A. D. (2010). Squeeze me, but don’t tease me: Human and mechanical touch enhance visual attention and emotion discrimination. Social Neuroscience, 6(3), 219–230. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2010.507958

Emotions, well-being, and mind

Schirmer, Annett, Romero-Garcia, R., Chiu, M. H., Escoffier, N., Penney, T. B., Goh, B., Suckling, J., Tan, J., & Feng, L. (2020). Rhythmic timing in aging adults: On the role of cognitive functioning and structural brain integrity. Psychology and Aging, 35(8), 1184–1200. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000575
Sze, W. P., Yoon, W. L., Escoffier, N., & Rickard Liow, S. J. (2016). Evaluating the Training Effects of Two Swallowing Rehabilitation Therapies Using Surface Electromyography—Chin Tuck Against Resistance (CTAR) Exercise and the Shaker Exercise. Dysphagia. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00455-015-9678-2
Schirmer, Annett, Escoffier, N., Ng, T., & Penney, T. B. (2016). Emotional Voices Distort Time: Behavioral and Neural Correlates. Timing & Time Perception, 4(1), 79–98. https://doi.org/10.1163/22134468-00002058
Schirmer, Annett, & Escoffier, N. (2010). Emotional MMN: Anxiety and heart rate correlate with the ERP signature for auditory change detection. Clinical Neurophysiology, 121(1), 53–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinph.2009.09.029
Schirmer, Annett, Escoffier, N., Li, Q. Y., Li, H., Strafford-Wilson, J., & Li, W.-I. (2008). What grabs his attention but not hers? Estrogen correlates with neurophysiological measures of vocal change detection. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 33(6), 718–727. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.02.010
Schirmer, Annett, Escoffier, N., Zysset, S., Koester, D., Striano, T., & Friederici, A. D. (2008). When vocal processing gets emotional: On the role of social orientation in relevance detection by the human amygdala. Neuroimage, 40(3), 1402–1410. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.01.018
Schirmer, A., Lui, M., Maess, B., Escoffier, N., Chan, M., & Penney, T. B. (2006). Task and sex modulate the brain response to emotional incongruity in asian listeners. Emotion, 6(3), 406–417. https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.6.3.406

Cognition and our sensory environment

Schirmer, Annett, Escoffier, N., Cheng, X., Feng, Y., & Penney, T. B. (2016). Detecting Temporal Change in Dynamic Sounds: On the Role of Stimulus Duration, Speed, and Emotion. Perception Science, 2055. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02055
Escoffier, Nicolas, Herrmann, C. S., & Schirmer, A. (2015). Auditory rhythms entrain visual processes in the human brain: Evidence from evoked oscillations and event-related potentials. NeuroImage, 111, 267–276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.02.024
Escoffier, Nicolas, Sheng, D. Y. J., & Schirmer, A. (2010). Unattended musical beats enhance visual processing. Acta Psychologica, 135(1), 12–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2010.04.005
Escoffier, N, & Tillmann, B. (2008). The tonal function of a task-irrelevant chord modulates speed of visual processing. Cognition, 107(3), 1070–1083. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2007.10.007
Schirmer, Annett, Simpson, E., & Escoffier, N. (2007). Listen up! Processing of intensity change differs for vocal and nonvocal sounds. Brain Research, 1176, 103–112.
Tillmann, B., Koelsch, S., Escoffier, N., Bigand, E., Lalitte, P., Friederici, A. D., & von Cramon, D. Y. (2006). Cognitive priming in sung and instrumental music: Activation of inferior frontal cortex. NeuroImage, 31(4), 1771–1782. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.02.028
Tillmann, Barbara, Bigand, E., Escoffier, N., & Lalitte, P. (2006). The influence of musical relatedness on timbre discrimination. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18(3), 343–358. https://doi.org/10.1080/09541440500269548

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