Naturalistic neuroscience, a novel approach to understand brain function “in the wild”, stems from the need to go beyond the simplistic experimental situations often used in neuroscience. Indeed, neural mechanisms underlying animal and human behaviors should ideally be studied in real life, or naturalistic conditions, taking into account interactions with the environment at the biological, mental and social levels. This approach also considers that variability (inter- or intra-individual) is part of the brain mechanisms under study and should not be discarded but rather explained. Revisiting our understanding of brain functions in this context is an important challenge not only for improving basic neuroscience knowledge but also for optimizing therapies in the context of personalized medicine.
The ongoing goal of the group is to foster naturalistic neuroscience activities at CRNL and to inform the community of the possibilities and perspectives in this field. We promote synergistic projects, in order to optimize the development of relevant tools and methods, and to share experience.
In the initial phase of the project, the coordination team will initiate and manage the axis actions. This will be progressively passed over to CRNL researchers, who will propose relevant activities - such as the organization of conferences about specific research topics. We expect to form two coordinating teams that will oversee the axis' initiatives in the framework of human and animal naturalistic studies, respectively.
We have planned a series of workshops, the first of which was held on the 25th of March 2021 [link]. These workshops focus primarily on methodological aspects of naturalistic research and aim to encourage discussions about further actions that are required to develop this type of research within the CRNL.
We will identify key scientific questions that are tackled by several teams of the CRNL and that can be addressed with naturalistic paradigms. Examples include episodic memory, social interactions and multisensory perception, that we aim to investigate with naturalistic approaches (e.g. virtual reality, living labs), in different models (rodents, humans and non-human primates) and using complementary methodologies (e.g. optogenetics, electrophysiology, functional imaging).
We will put in place collaborative platforms, allowing researchers to assess the feasibility of asking their scientific questions in the naturalistic framework. This cooperative effort will lead to innovative projects for joint grant applications.
Also, we plan to expand the capabilities of the CRNL to carry out naturalistic research, both by strengthening existing platforms (e.g. virtual reality) and by implementing new approaches, e.g. living labs, body-sensors and mass-testing web platforms.