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The AXA Research Fund awards its first grant in Asia to NUS for a study on the Biology of Decision Making Under Risk

December 2, 2010 |

The AXA Research Fund, a major and innovative initiative of scientific philanthropy supported by the worldwide insurance group AXA, is awarding 517,000 Euros (S$904, 079) over a period of 3 years, to the National University of Singapore (NUS) to undertake a research project on the "Biology of Decision Making under Risk" This marks the first time the AXA Research Fund has awarded a grant to a university in Asia.

The research project seeks a deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms underpinning individual differences in how people take risks by bringing together methodologies from behavioral and experimental economics and the biological sciences. The study will generate quantitative phenotypes that can propel advances in understanding the molecular architecture of human decision making in a risky environment.

The research study will be led by Prof Richard P. Ebstein and Prof Chew Soo Hong of NUS's Department of Psychology and Department of Economics respectively.

John R. Dacey, CEO of AXA Japan-Asia-Pacific Region and Member of the AXA Group Executive Committee, declared: "I am very pleased to announce the first Asian grant by the AXA Research Fund to the National University of Singapore, for an outstanding and innovative research project led by Professor Ebstein and Professor Chew. As a global leader in insurance business, AXA actively promotes the understanding and prevention of risks. We are convinced that basic research is essential for the development of knowledge in this area and thus contributes to building stronger and safer societies.”

“AXA teams in Singapore share with me the pride of this extension of the AXA Research Fund outside of Europe. I believe it is a very strong sign of our long term commitment to the region and its strategic importance for the Group.”

“I sincerely wish all the best to Professor Ebstein and his team and I really hope this first step will encourage more Asian institutions to apply.”
Prof Barry Halliwell, Deputy President (Research and Technology), NUS, said: We are pleased to receive this esteemed gift from the AXA Research Fund which will support the work of NUS researchers to identify and explain the biological underpinnings of risk-taking in human choice and behavior.

“The gift is recognition of NUS as a leading global university centred in Asia, and the University’s relentless drive to contribute to holistic understanding of critical issues for Asia and the rest of the world.”
Principal Investigator of the study, Prof Richard P. Ebstein, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at NUS, said: “We believe that human decision making in a risky environment has its roots in the early evolution of life itself. The specific aim of our project is to identify and unravel the basic biological mechanism underpinning decision making under risk.”

Several problems that afflict the world today remain obscure due to an almost complete ignorance of the biological architecture of human decision making. These problems can be viewed in terms of breakdowns in decision making ranging from economic meltdowns, driven in large measure by widespread breakdowns in trust between individuals and institutions freezing commerce worldwide, to disorders in individuals where the primary symptoms are more dramatic and often involve pathological changes in decision making behavior, e.g. drug addiction, pathological gambling, eating disorders, borderline personality disorders and extreme mistakes in saving and spending.

About the AXA Research Fund
Created in 2008, the AXA Research Fund provides support for research focused on understanding and preventing the risks threatening the environment, human life and our societies. This major and innovative initiative of scientific philanthropy is endowed by the AXA Group with a 5-year budget of Euro 100 million. As of October 29th, 2010, Euro 42 million have been committed and the AXA Research Fund has given its support to 192 research projects, implemented in 17 countries by researchers of 39 nationalities.
The funds are granted based on a decision by the Scientific Board, which is chaired by Ezra Suleiman and is made up of members of the academic world and AXA Group representatives. The Board works with the support of an operational team. More details about the AXA Research Fund, including presentation of the funding vehicles, guidelines and biographies of Scientific Board members, are available on the website - www.axa-research.org

About National University of Singapore (NUS)
The National University of Singapore is a leading research-intensive university centred in Asia. Ranked in the top 30 worldwide, NUS offers a global approach to education and research, with a focus on Asian perspectives and expertise. NUS has three Research Centres of Excellence (RCE) and 22 university-level research institutes and centres. It is also a partner in Singapore’s5th RCE. NUS shares a close affiliation with 16 national-level research institutes and centres. Research activities are world class, and NUS is well-known for its research strengths in engineering, life sciences, medicine, social sciences, natural sciences and at the intersection of these disciplines to address issues such as ageing and sustainability
For more information, please visit: www.nus.edu.sg

About Prof Richard P. Ebstein, principal investigator of the project
Prof Richard P. Ebstein from the NUS Department of Psychology is the principal investigator for this study. He is also Sylvia Scheinfeld Professor of Human Genetics at the Hebrew University. Prof Ebstein's research revolves around human behavioural genetics, with the overarching goal of providing molecular insights into the role of genes as a partial contributor to all facets of human behaviour. His work is highly interdisciplinary and combines personality