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(44) Research on BRAIN (extended): Misophonia

The quest into the unknown land of ‘misophonia’ continues. It is not included in any diagnostic manuals, it is not widely acknowledged by the medical community. Yet people who suffer from misophonia exist and here is what they are confronted with, in the words of Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout, the founder of International Misophonia Research Network, a New York State Certified School Psychologist, a Connecticut Professional Licensed Counselor, with a Doctorate in School/Clinical-Child Psychology, based here in the Connecticut, the United States of America.

Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout, International Misophonia Research Network.

Differentiating Disorders: Misophonia and Sensory Over-Responsivity

As all researchers know, almost comically, well, uncovering new scientific knowledge is no easy task. Whether you are engaged in investigating a well-trod topic, or, like me, you are forging relatively new territory, there are often not simple solutions to the complex problems we encounter. Perhaps you have recently read about the disorder I study and advocate for, misophonia, on this blog. Misophonia is a neurologically based disorder in which auditory, and sometimes visual, stimuli are misinterpreted within the central nervous system, leading sufferers to have unpleasant reactions to sounds others would consider barely noticeable.

Source: internet.

When misophonia sufferers are exposed to particular “trigger sounds,” the fight/flight response is set off within the body. For these individuals, hearing a noxious noise can feel akin to being confronted with a wild animal, as their hearts race and muscles tense.

Because misophonia (does not appear in diagnostic manuals, such as DSM-5 or ICD-10) is only recently gaining wider recognition in the public and scientific communities, studying this disorder presents a unique set of challenges. 


Though there is a scant amount of research on misophonia at this point, fortunately, there is a large body of research that has been developed over the past 15 years on a similar disorder, Sensory Over-Responsivity (a subtype of Sensory Processing Disorder). Individuals suffering from Sensory Over-Responsivity react to all types of sensory information as thought it were dangerous, and their fight/flight systems can be activated by seemingly inoffensive sights, smells, tastes, touches, or sounds. In both, misophonia and Sensory Over-Responsivity, certain sounds can leave sufferers feeling angry, fearful, disgusted, and “out of control.”

Source: Internet.

Though it may seem natural that the research on Sensory Over-Responsivity be used to inform our understanding of misophonia, this has, largely, not taken place. We may ask ourselves, why are these two highly similar disorders rarely compared in misophonia academic articles, or articles in the popular press? My answer to this question is an unfortunate one: for the most part, researchers are not used to working within a cross-disciplinary model.

While psychology researchers, audiology researchers, and occupational therapy researchers may be competent and successful within their own fields, they are often not accustomed to reaching beyond them to integrate other types of research into their own work. There is a long pragmatic and political history behind the lack of cross-disciplinary research work that is not necessarily the fault of academic researchers or clinicians. However, in the “age of information” that we are living in, sharing valuable knowledge between researchers from different disciplines should now be as quick and easy as doing a google search, and as common. As it is, this lack of information sharing trickles down to the public, and often leads Misophonia and Sensory Over-Responsivity sufferers to find inaccurate information about their own conditions.

research 4.png

Unfortunately, another important problem facing both misophonia and Sensory Over-Responsivity is that neither disorder has been accepted into the diagnostic manuals (DSM-5 or the ICD-10). It is difficult to understand the logic behind this fact, as studies have estimated that up to 20% of children are affected by sensory-based disorders. Likewise, tens of thousands of people have gathered on social media platforms to form support groups for misophonia, helping one another fill the gaps left by a large portion of the mental health community. There is a long political history involving how a disorder gains entry into diagnostic manuals, and though the National Institute of Health has taken steps recently to try to change this process, this change comes long after the damage has been done. Therefore, what we are left with is two disorders that “don’t exist,” that are not reimbursable by insurance, and for which research funding is extraordinarily difficult to come by.

Sensory Over- Responsivity and Misophonia share more than symptoms. They share neglect from the medical and psychiatric communities, which has resulted in the dissemination of more than enough inaccurate and confusing information to do damage to sufferers lives. My hope is that going forward, receptive practitioners and researchers from all facets of the healthcare community can work cooperatively to study and treat these disorders, discovering important knowledge and improving sufferers’ quality of life.

This post is written by Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout  (who is also the mother of adult triplets, and is a Misophonia sufferer herself) and Miss Madeline Appelbaum, a recent alumna of Reed College (Oregon, USA), with a particular interest in educational psychology. Madeline wrote an undergraduate thesis on the effects of autonomous and controlled motivation to learn on college students.

Madeline Appelbaum, Intern at International Misophonia Research Network

International Misophonia Research Network (Amsterdam)

With love for Research,


Academia anxiety definition health knowledge origin research Researcher Special Guest stress

(43) Research on Brain (extension): Misophonia.

Hatred of sound: Misophonia.

Have you ever thought that hearing other people’s chewing can be disturbing to the level of a disease? … When I learned from Mercede that there are barely 40 scientific articles published on misophonia the world (her opinion) on this topic, I thought, this simply can not be. How is it possible that in all this detailed investigation of human body to which research progressed until now, only few studies have been made? This is Research on Brain (and its related parts) month on Researchista. Let’s get to learn about something one day, one of us or someone we know could experience. At least we will know what’s it called.

Dr. Mercede Erfanian.

Misophonia is a relatively new neurobehavioral syndrome or disease. It is characterized by high hearing sensitivity that research shows it can result from exposure to specific sounds like gum chewing, lip smacking, crunching, etc.

Originally, it was described by Pawel and Margarette Jastreboff (2001) . They say that individuals with misophonia show increased physical excitement like sweating, heart racing, high body temprature, which are along with emotional distress. It seems majority of these sounds are repetitive and pattern-based, irrespective of sound strength (decibel level).

Misophonia. Source: internet.

The potential triggers that can cause misophonia can be:other people’s chewing, throat clearing, slurping, finger tapping, foot shuffling, keyboard tapping, and pen clicking. These sound triggers vary across individuals, and suggesting that learning history, individual differences, and context may play a role in aversive responding.

Source: internet.

When facing with misophonic triggers individuals also show behavioral responses that often include anger (ranging from irritation to rage), anxiety, and disgust, avoidance, and escape behavior. (called “misophonic responses”).

It is important to know that some individuals can have impairments in daily functioning (e.g., occupationally, interpersonally, academically) and the can develop other behavioral health problems due to misophonia. A group of investigated individuals that have misophonia have developed ways to cope with it, but still report that the condition is very difficult to manage and negatively affects various aspects of their lives.


Misophonia has not been formally recognized (yet?) as a specific type of neurological, audiological, or psychiatric disorder. However, it has shown high co-occurring appearances? with-non-psychiatric and psychiatric disorders (e.g., tinnitus, hyperacusis, migraine headaches, autism spectrum disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder).


Here at .. Amsterdam… we would like to raise awareness and lead more research in this area. Although, the Netherlands has been very active, the country where this topic has been discussed much more widely than in other parts of the world, we realise that not many know about and would like to carry more research in this area. If it happens that you know neuroscientists or .. or simply wish to learn more about and support our raising awareness campaign, do that here (link gogo)

To be continued…

Post written by Mercede Erfanian, Research Fellow

International Misophonia Research Network (Amsterdam).



With love for Research,


Academia anxiety health knowledge neuroscience research Researcher Special Guest stress

(41) Research on brain: hearing.

And here is Laurien back again with a crash intro on what is happening in our brain when we hear something! Did you hear that? 😉

PhD Laurien Nagels-Coune

A ringing in your ear?



The first post in this BRAIN research series was about language. Next to spoken words, there are plenty of other sounds in our daily life. They are the source of joy and comfort but what if a certain sound drives you mad? Tinnitus is the fancy term for ‘having a ringing in your ear’. It is in fact the perception of sound in absence of any actual sound.

Now, before I go on, I have to emphasize that I am no expert in this field. My PhD is focused on muscle-independent communication for locked-in patients. These are patients who lost most motor capacities and are in essence ‘locked-in’ their own bodies, yet let me tell you more about this another time 😉 . I am writing about tinnitus now because it is a scientific side project of mine and I will collaborate in a clinical investigation soon on it. As a clinician, I have always found it fascinating how such a seemingly insignificant disorder can drive one mad, but try to listen to a few of these 11 tinnitus sounds by the British tinnitus association. Personally, I can imagine going mad when being forced to listen to sound 8 or 11 for even a day.


In April I went to a studium generale lecture here in Maastricht by Prof. dr. Robert Stokroos and Dr. Iris Nowak-Maes. Perhaps some of you were there as well? I remember that extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the immense turn-up that evening. Prof. dr. Stokroos confirmed the immense proportion of this seemingly insignificant disorder:


About a million people in the Netherlands have to deal with tinnitus, about 60.000 of those are seriously hindered in their daily lives. Tinnitus costs around 2.3 percent of the yearly care budget.”

Ok, so now that we know what tinnitus is. We also know how severe its consequences are in our society. So let’s cut to the chase.

What causes tinnitus? The most common cause is exposure to noise, such as a noisy work environment. People that have been in warfare for example often develop tinnitus. What happens is that the cochlea, the ‘snail house’, of the ear gets damaged.



Specifically, there are tiny hair cells in this snail house that get damaged. But where does neuroscience come in? Well in most cases, damage to these little hair cells causes hearing loss in a specific frequency range. This is because the hair cells are grouped per frequency. What is interesting now is that often the tinnitus frequency is exactly in this frequency range! So what might be happening? Animal models suggest that when the hair cells are damaged, there is differentiation of nerves going from the cochlea to the brain. Our auditory part of the brain starts to have increased spontaneous activity.  So what is a disease of the ear, soon becomes a disease of the brain.


Image adopted from Adjamian, P., Sereda, M., & Hall, D. A. (2009). The mechanisms of tinnitus: perspectives from human functional neuroimaging. Hearing research, 253(1), 15-31.

What is often seen in animal models is that there is some reorganization of the auditory cortex (part C of the above figure). You can see that the top red regions stop responding to high frequencies but start reacting on lower frequencies that were close to them. You can see how damage to a specific part of the ear, can change the workings of the brain.

The above is just a common way of thinking about tinnitus. However, be careful dear readers, little is still known about this fascinating topic. One in four tinnitus patients do not have hearing loss namely and reorganization of the auditory cortex has not been confirmed as a cause of tinnitus in humans. However, motivated neuroscientists keep learning and understanding this disease better and better. Once the mechanisms are unraveled, the way is open to treatment and interventions. However, my take home message to those readers that haven’t developed tinnitus yet is: Protect your ears J As always, prevention is better than treatment!



Tinnitus remains a hot topic in the field of neuroscience, we don’t understand it fully yet. There is still a lot more to discover about auditory perception. For example, another strange disorder that involves the hatred of certain specific sounds…   but our next guest will unravel the neural correlates of this phenomenon in next week’s post.

by Laurien Nagels-CounePhD student in Cognitive Neuroscience at FPN, Maastricht University

With love for Researchers,


Academia knowledge neuroscience research Special Guest writing

(40) Research on Brain: reading.

Research on BRAIN month continues with the another indispensable gift that human brain offers us, amongst other skills – and that is READING. The Experienced Researcher at the 4th top young leading university in the world Maastricht University, Dr. Gojko Žarić will explain us how is it that we end up re-a-ding… Finally, I get to understand what are these machines on a Researcher’s head doing :):)

Dr. Gojko Zaric

Can you read? How do you do that?

Humans read and write for about 5000 years. It appears that the reading relies on the brain areas that serve other functions, such as vision, hearing and language, rather than reading alone. But things get more complicated with other higher cognitive functions such as, the attention – a crucial factor in successful reading.


Figure 1. Possibly the earliest known writing. Summer pictographic writing on the limestone tablet from Kish dated ~3500 BC (Source: Wikipedia).

This means that a large number of brain areas have to cooperate to allow us to read (one example of these areas is in  Figure 2). Thus, as reading is a complex cognitive function, it is not surprising that 1-2 in every 20 children have trouble mastering this skill. In other words, in every classroom there is at least one child struggling with reading due to a specific learning disability with neuro-biological root. These children suffer from developmental dyslexia. In my research I am looking at brain responses of children and adults to reading related materials and tasks.

Figure 2. One modern day view of the brain areas involved in reading (Source: Dehaene, Reading in the Brain, 2009).

Written language consists of arbitrary visual forms, i.e. letters. that the certain society relates to the speech sounds of its language. Speech sounds are distinct units of the spoken language that differentiate between the words (e.g. mug, bug, rug). If the letters represent distinct speech sounds we call the script alphabetic (Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Hangul, Armenian and Georgian) A more loose definition of alphabetic scripts includes script such as abjad in which commonly only the consonants are written (Arabic and Hebrew), syllabic (Japanese Katakana script), and abugida scripts in which the vowel does not have its own symbol but is represented by changing the letter symbol of the consonant (e.g. Indic, Ethiopic, Canadian Aboriginal). Another group of scripts are logographic scripts, such as Chinese, in which visual symbols already represent meaningful units of language (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Examples of different scripts: 1) Alphabet – Dutch 2) Syllabic – Japanese Katakana 3) Abjad – Hebrew 4) Abugida – Ethiopic 5) Alphabet – Serbian Cyrillic and Latin 6) Logographic – Chinese standard and modern simplified (examples).

Thus, a child learning to read an alphabetic script first has to learn to connect letters and corresponding speech sounds, e.g. letter “m” to the speech sound /m/ in the words “mug”, “drum”… My research topic (remember what we called a “Research question” part on do-your-own-little Research?) is how a child’s brain builds up letter-speech sound connections and how it automatizes them to allow children to move to the next stages of the reading development. Next, my research also concerns the reading stage in which these connections are made and children can recognize words as units without having to read them letter by letter.  Furthermore, I am interested in what brain responses differ between children with and without reading problems. In other words, can I find which brain areas or which cognitive functions are not cooperating as supposed to.

To investigate these questions we can use different neuro-scientific methods such as electroencephalography, functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging.

Electroencephalography (EEG) tells us, with the millisecond precision when the brain responds to a certain stimulus. For example, we can present readers with the letters and speech sounds that match or mismatch (Figure 4, middle row) and we can investigate how is the brain responding in these two conditions and if the brains of dyslexic children produce different responses. In another task, we can measure  their responses while they read words or meaningless letter-like false font strings (Figure 4, bottom row). We can then analyze, for example, amplitudes and latencies of the brain responses. We can also analyze how is signal measured at the back of the head related to the signal measured at the front of the head to see if these signals come from the brain areas that cooperate or not. And many more possibilities for an analysis of the EEG data are available…

Figure 4. Examples of an EEG measurement during letter-speech sound integration and word reading task.

We can use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see where in the brain are the areas that get more/less activated during letter-speech sound integration or word reading (example in Figure 2 is based on multiple studies with various tasks). With this method we can see that children and adult readers activate the same brain network during reading, but regions that are involved in letter-speech sound integration are activated more in children, while regions involved in fast recognition of words as units are activated more in adults.

We can also look at the white matter of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging, by employing different imaging technique, diffusion weighted imaging (Figure 5). White matter contains the highways of the brain, large bundles of the neuronal axons through which the signals travel between different brain areas. The integrity of the white matter can develop differently over time in dyslexic and typical readers. On the other hand, reading can influence white matter development, i.e. the more the certain neuronal bundles are used, the more structured they become.

Figure 5. Diffusion weighted image of the white matter of the human brain (Source: Wikipedia).

Thus neuroscience offers multiple methods to look at the typical and atypical reading development. These methods can be combined with reading trainings to examine the benefits of the training at both behavioral and neural level. The coupling of behavioral and neural changes with reading training is not only scientifically important as it informs us which brain areas serve which functions, but it is foremost important for the children with reading problem, as it may be a sign that the changes are long-lasting.

If this short introduction made you interested in the research of reading and dyslexia, you can check my ResearchGate page or webpage, made by my collaborator, Dr. Gorka Fraga González from University of Amsterdam, where you can find our scientific papers on these topics. You can visit our Maastricht University based research group page to find out more on different reading, speech and language related research.

Post written by Gojko Žarić, M-BIC, Maastricht University

With love for Research,


Academia count enthusiasm health knowledge neuroscience research Researcher Special Guest

(39) Research on Brain: language.

This is Research on Brain month on Researchista and this is our guest of the week, I would normally say, but this is not just an usual introduction. This is such a genuinely nice person and friend, I wish to transmit at least a little bit from the inspiration and huge support that Joao has been giving to research communication. I would like to thank him for accepting to break the ice on Research and BRAIN month – with its related topics that are included in one field, called ‘Neuroscience’. It start with how brain helps us express clearly and use language to solve our problems and grow. Welcome to our Special Guest Dr. Joao Correia, originally from Portugal, Experienced Researcher at Maastricht University.


Dr. Joao Correia

We all have the impression that the brain is vast, and that vastness allows us to perform a long list of human functions. One of the unique functions that humans have is by far the ability to communicate. Human communication is direct and self-motivated. We do not only express ourselves to others, but we do it with the intention to change the behavior and knowledge of others.

My research dives into the unknown neural circuits of the communicating brains via speech and language. I try to understand how we speak and how we understand the speech of others, and in addition how these seemingly natural capacities serve the memory and thoughts and above all, shape the advanced societies of our world. Imagine, a car crash test.


A car at high speed drives against a brick wall. This is – figuratively – what happens in the tympanic membrane of our ears when you hear something. Sound waves (travelling at 340 meters per second) bring auditory information into our ears, which transforms this mechanical energy into electric signals that can be interpreted by our brains.

Without this basic physical and neural capacity to receive sound information, for example from speech, infants wouldn’t develop normal speech and linguistic capabilities. Our ability to speak or to read owes much to this initial training of speech sound perception, such as our parents voice.


As the auditory cortices in the left and right hemispheres, receive signals from spoken language, they start to link to others brain areas that are being coherently stimulated. For example, we hear different melodic tunnes (also called ‘signatures’ or ‘prosodies’) when our parents want to provide us a positive or negative feedback for education. Or we hear the word ‘water’ coherently together with the experience of drinking water. In sum, our senses start becoming linked, originating richer memory representations (auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory or emotional). How exactly these links are created and used in everyday life remains largely unknown.

Another linguistic faculty that is poorly understood is how we speak. Remember how swimming is a super exercise because it uses so many muscles of our body? Well, speaking uses more than 100 muscles, from the diaphragm and costal muscles – to create air flow – to multiple muscles of the larynx – to create the necessary pressure – to transform air flow onto sound waves – and finally – muscles of the vocal tract like the lips and tongue – to shape those sound waves onto concrete speech sounds. Due to our highly linked brain, we are capable to develop speaking abilities purely from hearing other people speaking, as well as, experiencing our own attempts to speak.

This link between auditory and motoric brain systems is often referred to as sensorimotor integration, because it provides a platform to integrate sensory and motor components. Sensorimotor integration is a key aspect of speech development, everyday speaking and comprehension. In a nutshell, we speak in a certain way because of how we hear and we hear in a certain way because of how we speak.

Source: internet.

I am deeply in love with the versatility and complexity of sensorimotor integration, as it has the potential to explain multiple mysteries of the communicating brains, how comprehension and speaking develop normally and abnormally or how the brain learns to read.

Until recently, to ask these questions would necessarily lead to difficult philosophic and psychological discussions for which my engineering background wouldn’t be ready. However, in addition to these critical points in science, today we can image the human brain safely and with unprecedented detail, which allows directly to test and create hypothesis for how humans communicate…

Functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) allows taking magnetic pictures of the brain as people execute scientific experiments, including speaking or listening to speech. The pictures,


reflect oxygen consumption within each small 3D pixel (or voxel) and are extremely rich in detail. However, such a complex capability is not present in one or two voxels, but distributed among the vast neural circuitry of the brain. Thousands of voxels per second must be analyzed during a single act of hearing, speaking or reading.

This screams for computational tools, able to handle such large amount of data. In my work, I use tools that have been developed for statistical learning, like predicting the weather, to learn how voxels behave for language. By investigating how voxels encode linguistic units, I hope to help formulate models of spoken communication that can have a direct impact to understand the neural circuitry for speech and language and to help unravel how these circuits fail during speech and language disorders. There is a long road to walk, but with the help of parallel technological development, this road may now be driven in a fast sport car rather than by foot. In 2010, I counted on voxels of 42 cubic millimeters, in 2014 of 8 cubic millimeters, and now in 2016 of 1 cubic millimeter. This increase in spatial resolution has a huge impact on our research, that goes hand in hand with innovation. Together, the vastness of the human brain is becoming increasingly understood.

Post written by Joao Correia, M-BIC, Maastricht University

With love for Research,


Academia Business Environment Food knowledge research Researcher Special Guest

(37) Aesthetics, Food and Innovation

Dear Researchista friends, please welcome our first Special Guest from abroad (outside NL), Dr. Beatrice D’Ippolito! 


This month Researchista has decided to focus on the food industry. As an evolutionary economist at root, when I think of an industry and the products or services offered, I start thinking of what drives change and innovation in the specific context. Last week’s contribution to ‘Research on Food (industry) month on Researchista’ started off with the following: “It is the experience which brings about development and innovation”. Today I would like to delve further into the concept of innovation in food retail, hardly considered as innovating, yet bearing a significant potential for growth and change.

Source: “Learning about food design”, d’Ippolito (2015)

Ongoing debates within the academic and policy-making communities centre argue that less technology-intensive industries rely on services to build their innovation capacity. Which foundations does this belief build on?


Recently I have been involved in a project which sought to explore how aesthetics, which often finds expression in design, can shape the innovation activities undertaken by food retailers. ‘Why aesthetics?’, you may wonder? And even, ‘How does it relate to food retail?

Aesthetics was a term coined by Baumgarten in Aesthetica (1750-58) to describe a philosophical discipline that examines the “lower” sensual aspects of human experience as opposed to the “higher” realm of logics. Research on the topic has evolved in many directions ever since and, for the sake of simplicity, I hereby refer to aesthetics as concerned with “the nature and appreciation of art, beauty, and good taste” (Oxford English Dictionary). Falling under the realm of axiology, that is, the study of values and value judgments, aesthetics is strongly connected with individual preferences. You may start connecting the dots here.

Source: internet.

Retail industries are increasingly being subject to consumers demanding for more innovation. Interestingly, although a retailer’s success relies on the ability to predict market trends, retailers are usually the adopters of innovations produced by other manufacturing companies. Retail firms are rarely thought of as innovation pioneers, yet some of them seem to adopt existing technologies to either improve their selling practices or enhance the quality of their retail processes. In addition, most innovations offered by retailers, though incremental, can generate meaningful impact on firms’ performance if sustained in the long run.

Source: “Emerging trends in food retail”, (Oct’16)

Further, I would like to discuss more about these aspects by illustrating how food retailers can innovate their offering by leveraging on the design element of their products and services. To do so, I draw on the case of Eataly (, a food retailer that entered the Italian food market in 2007 with a first establishment in Turin, and additional ones later on, both in Italy and abroad.

Source: internet.

The founder of Eataly believed in a world in which consumers are aware of healthier eating habits and the importance of consuming organic and seasonal products. These values have been inspired by Slow Food, a global organisation founded in Italy in 1989 to counteract fast food and a fast life on the one hand, and the disappearance of local food traditions and ethical modes of food production and consumption on the other. In seeking to protect this cultural heritage, Slow Food has effectively become a ‘clearing house’ for knowledge of local foods, initially in Italy, then globally.

Source: “One of Eataly’s mottos” from field visit to Eataly Store in Milan (Teatro Smeraldo, 2015), D’Ippolito & Timpano (2016). Translation: “Life is too short to eat and drink bad”

How does aesthetics manifest itself in the offering and activities of Eataly? The company originates from a series of stimuli rooted in both the territory in which the first store was set up, Turin, and the professional background of the founder, Oscar Farinetti. Eataly became the place where consumers could go and enjoy their food with family and friends (a restaurant), buy locally produced ingredients (a supermarket), and learn how to cook traditional recipes (a locus of learning).

Oscar Farinetii, Founder of Eataly. Source: here

Still, where is aesthetics? Eataly is an excellent case to explore how design as embedding and expressing aesthetics can foster innovation in service industries like food retailing. This is the case for various reasons. First, Eataly sought to grow and build reputation by locating their branches in sites that have a meaning for the local community. As Farinetti puts it, “Each ‘Eataly in the world’ focuses on one value: harmony for Turin, audacity for Genoa, doubt for New York. For Rome, we have chosen beauty”. For instance, the branch in Turin is located within the old premises of Carpano, an Italian winery and distillery that first established in Turin in 1786 and later moved to Milan. The store also benefits from the flourishing surroundings, that is, one of the country’s largest areas for food production and relevant events such as Terra Madre and The Salone del Gusto. The logic behind this approach is that of attracting the attention of those consumers who are familiar and emotionally attached to the site they live in and increase their awareness about its cultural heritage. Second, whilst the architecture of the various retail stores tries to recall the big factories (e.g., visible pipes on the ceiling, metallic furniture), Eataly still wishes to establish a reputation for the store as being central to the city rather than peripheral like many shopping malls.

Source: Eataly Story in Rome (taken during one of my field visits, April, 2014)

Third, elements of aesthetics have been built into different aspects of the firm’s organisation. A highly visible dimension regards the layout and logistics of the store. The first store, Eataly Turin, counts more than 6,000 m2 dedicated to the supermarket area, the restaurant, and exhibition (e.g., fair trade coffee) of their products. The store logistic has been set out with the aim of making the consumer ‘travel’ through theme-specific corridors almost by forgetting that the store is of a much bigger size. Product and restaurant points are arranged to induce purchase and offer a unique experience – “…products are shelved so closely that you cannot just avoid them, you feel the impulse of taking one back home with you” (field notes from the researcher’s visits to Eataly Rome). A series of mono-theme restaurants are dedicated to the product types such as ready-made bread or fresh meat, and besides each of them, a learning corner has been set up to deliver cooking training programs to candidate chefs, for example about meat cutting or bread making techniques.

Translation: “If I don’t go to Eataly, I die! I have fallen in love from the first moment I saw it. This is why I wanted to bring it in my city: New York. It is liked like crazy, even by my dog”, Joe Bastianichi. Source: internet

The architect’s brief for Eataly’s first store has been framed and exhibited in the Rome store (see figure below): here one can really see Eataly’s intent to recall consumer attention to the company’s roots and how these have informed their organisational values.Still, where is aesthetics?

Eataly is an excellent case to explore how design as embedding and expressing aesthetics can foster innovation in service industries like food retailing. This is the case for various reasons. First, Eataly sought to grow and build reputation by locating their branches in sites that have a meaning for the local community. As Farinetti puts it, “Each ‘Eataly in the world’ focuses on one value: harmony for Turin, audacity for Genoa, doubt for New York. For Rome, we have chosen beauty”. For instance, the branch in Turin is located within the old premises of Carpano, an Italian winery and distillery that first established in Turin in 1786 and later moved to Milan. The store also benefits from the flourishing surroundings, that is, one of the country’s largest areas for food production and relevant events such as Terra Madre and The Salone del Gusto. The logic behind this approach is that of attracting the attention of those consumers who are familiar and emotionally attached to the site they live in and increase their awareness about its cultural heritage. Second, whilst the architecture of the various retail stores tries to recall the big factories (e.g., visible pipes on the ceiling, metallic furniture), Eataly still wishes to establish a reputation for the store as being central to the city rather than peripheral like many shopping malls.

Last but not least, aesthetics is also embedded with how products are “placed on the shelves and introduced to consumers” (interview with the Communications Director). Most products, though manufactured by small farmers, are packaged in light-coloured packaging, in white more often than not, to introduce fresh, healthy, and tasty products. Shelves are painted in white; advertising wallpapers or flyers have a white background; and shopping assistants’ aprons are white to recreate a similarly freshening atmosphere. As the Communications Director stated, “it is important to present the product without overwhelming it”.

Eataly represents an example of how, through the entrepreneurial initiatives driven by passion, tradition, and ethical behaviour (e.g., promotion of locally sourced products, shorter product life cycles, and new restaurant models), a small firm can be innovative and contribute to driving change. The case points indeed to the importance of local communities, local brands, and intensified relationships with customers’ suppliers that will not only generate a positive impact for the company, but also the local economy.

Post written by Dr. Beatrice D’IppolitoLecturer in Strategic Management, University of York, UK

Note to the post:

The current piece draws from a research collaboration between Dr D’Ippolito and Prof. Timpano (Universitàa Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Piacenza, Italy). Results from this project can be further consulted at the following sources:

With love for Research,


Academia first years of PhD knowledge research Researcher Special Guest stereotype struggle

(34) Impostor Syndrome in Academia.

Dear Researchista friend, allow me to introduce you to Laurien, our ‘intern’ (is unusual to call a PhD, an intern), whom I had the pleasure to meet through Maastricht University’s Alumni Office (thanks to Guido Vanderbroeck). In the light of Researchista’s strong encouragement for Researchers to get creative, please welcome this PhD post. This is Laurien’s first creative-writing-with-academic-flavour post, support and enjoy!



 ‘I just had a whole lot of luck’

Whilst I am sitting here writing this first post for Researchista, various dark thoughts run through my mind. Did I bite off a bigger piece than I can chew? Are people going to think this is a dull piece of text? Can I combine blogging with my PhD work? Self-doubt and critique are a pretty common phenomenon that many of you are familiar with. These feelings are quite normal and adaptive because they make us go the extra mile. They urge us to practice that presentation one more time before getting on stage or to repeat those materials a last time before the test.

A far worse feeling is feeling like a real fraud, feeling like you do not deserve the job/title you currently hold. People afflicted with the ‘imposter syndrome’ are truly convinced that they are frauds in their job and that they just had a lot of luck. These anxious individuals worry that their boss and/or peers will soon discover they are not capable or intelligent after all. Once discovered there will be a fall from grace and complete humiliation. There are plenty famous figures that suffer from the imposter syndrome. One of them is UN Women Goodwill ambassador Emma Watson. She admitted feeling like an imposter and stated that she could never meet the expectations the public has from her.

When digging into the plenty of popular science articles and YouTube videos on imposter syndrome, I came across a video lecture from Chris Lema. His definition of imposter syndrome speaks to me: imposter syndrome is the inability to internalize success. It is the inability to respond to an accomplishment with the feeling ‘I did that’. It is the person immediately diminishing his/her efforts when receiving a compliment: ‘Oh that was just luck’ and ‘Oh I have great colleagues’. I like Lema’s definition a lot because it accounts for the paradox that is the imposter syndrome: the ones feeling like a fraud are often immensely successful at the same time. I would dare to say that having success but not internalizing it, not owning it, is the same as not experiencing success at all …. ?

Many blogs and opinion articles claim that imposter syndrome is rampant throughout academia. When looking in my personal circle of academic colleagues, I tend to agree with such statements. Of course the syndrome is not exclusive to academia, but what makes academia such a fertile ground for the development of fraudulent feelings? Here are a few potential reasons:

Academia is a competitive There is a limited amount of grants, tenure positions, etc. You are competing with peers for the same position. Comparing yourself to peers is thus inevitable, especially when you know that admission committees will compare you directly either way. When we observe our peers, we see a ‘filtered picture’. Just like on Instagram, we see our peers publishing articles, shining on a stage when presenting, etc. What we do not see is the behind- the-scenes grind of last minute work, procrastination, failure and emotional turmoil. No wonder we feel like an imposter when we experience all the flaws that we do not see in our peers.

1. Academia has a clear hierarchical structure with the tenured professor on top, followed by non-tenured assistant professors, postdocs and graduate students. Because of the clear division between positions, it somehow seems that you need to be ‘a lot smarter’ to move one step up. The process can be perceived as non-gradual and therefore employees might feel like an imposter when taking on a new position.

2. In addition there is also a ‘timing issue’ because of expectations from our environment (and also from ourselves) arise: A PhD should finish in 3/4 years. A postdoc should roll out a few first-author papers a year. Certain grants can only be attained in a certain time frame (x years after getting the PhD). Whenever we fail to meet a ‘deadline’, we feel inadequate and somehow less capable than our colleagues finishing ‘in time’.

3. Academia is a personal strive. Even though researchers are embedded in research labs/ groups, at the end of the day only your work counts. Only the papers that proudly carry your name count. Your teaching evaluation is looked at and your progress is looked at. You cannot hide behind a team. This much responsibility might be too overwhelming to handle for some of us. There is no way that you can handle all of that responsibility.

4. Academia has an ‘elite’ feel to it. Academia still is a bit of an ‘ivory tower’, there is no reality check. I am comparing myself with genius people, and therefore feel stupid. I think it is good to get out of the academic bubble now and then to realize that you have many strengths. It is good to distinguish your personal worth from your researcher’s worth. One has nothing to do with the other, even though it might feel like it.

5. ‘Universitas’ means broadening your knowledge, yet more often universities enable specialization in one field. Because of the specialization, you might feel inadequate when a colleague talks about his research and you do not understand a single word of what he/she is saying. You might feel like an imposter: ‘How did I come so far without studying more biology?! .. what a fraud I am!’. I myself often suffer from the ‘knowing more is knowing less’ phenomenon. When I delve into an undiscovered neuroscience topic I often feel confused and overwhelmed. There are so many articles and studies out there that a seemingly simple paradigm turns into a three-headed dragon.

6. Academia attracts high achievers, and in turn it is known that high-achievers are more prone to the imposter syndrome. These high-achievers might have certain personality traits that predispose them such as perfectionism, anxiety, etc.

Even though imposter syndrome is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM, there are some real consequences. A study from Gent University found that employees identifying themselves with the imposter syndrome, report to be less likely to volunteer for tasks that are beyond their job description. This adds another layer to the riddle of imposter syndrome: suffering from it doesn’t make you work harder, but perhaps even less hard. So, dear readers, we have to combat the imposter syndrome. The first step, as always, is recognizing one has a problem. Step two is talking about it to a colleague or a friend. Especially friends outside academia might give you some perspective. A small tip that I am practicing daily is this one: Next time you get a compliment, own it. Stop yourself when you feel ‘I had a whole lot of luck’ rolling out of your mouth. Celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. You are pretty awesome 😉

Here you go dear readers, my first-ever blog post for Researchista. Imperfect as it is, it is real, tangible and a proof that I am not a ‘blog imposter’, I just sometimes feel like one.

This text was written on my personal title.

by Laurien Nagels-CounePhD student in Cognitive Neuroscience at FPN, Maastricht University


With love for Researchers,


Academia enthusiasm happiness knowledge last years of PhD Launch passion research Researcher

(29) Researchista Public Launch + Board Game launch.

Intro: When life gives you lemons… It was the last year of my PhD.


I was so exhausted of editing, writing and thinking. My brain was boiling and flowing over its borders. Long hours in front of my laptop were not helping my RSI, neither to find a job. All I had to do in the last phase of my PhD was to: FINISH. I was so tired at that stage that there was hardly room to think of what I wanted to do in the future, but I felt that for me to go on, I needed to distract my attention on something that will make me feel good, something that would give me a perspective of what I was doing. After so much hard work, I did not want my thesis to stay dusty on the shelves and forget about it in a year. So, I thought to make a Board Game out of my PhD thesis. 

As if.. as if… that would give me a job or would have made me a better Researcher… But I knew that I had a point of view inside me that I was urging to come out. So I called ‘Leo’. Someone who was divorced and sad, with 2 children whom he could not see and slightly unemployed. While slightly looking for work, he would have had much more free time at hand that I did, and most importantly… he was so good at games.


The story: I don’t know if you have ever tried to develop a work project On-Line, meaning with someone who lives in another country, but in this project, I felt like I was on earth and the other person was on the moon and we were trying to somehow make each other understood with much precision, but there were always some things left out. On top of it, when you finally reached your ‘Online partner in crime’ and have calls like:

– Irina, I might be going to prison, so let me call you back in the afternoon.

– Oh, to prison! Ok, no problem, call me when you are done”

you understand, you are on probably on the right track… of.. life, full of challenges.

Please welcome to my online partner in crime, Leo (he does not like to be taken pictures, this is his dog). Without his help, I would have never figured out these rules and make a Board Game out of my thesis. He is extremely bright, but was never lucky with his degrees. An inquisitive mind, growing up when Soviet Union collapsed, which made him unlucky for many years. I called Leo to help me because he was good with gaming, he thinks fast and he had time. The only thing he was missing was the ability to be there on Skype appointments or be accessible on the phone, which is pretty much in what an ON-LINE partnership consists of…which made my mission most of the time impossible.

Phase 1


In the last phase, Leo found his Lionette


and the communication went so much smoother and with her help, we managed to test life and online multiple times the game and make it happen.


Phase 2

So, here it is, the game has real countries, real flags, real average wages in that country (average wage is not the minimum wage, is how much money on average people receive in that country), real average taxes for those wages.

Phase 3joint_old_new2

Important: it is impossible to have in highest precision all the numbers, because the situation can vary by case and the taxes also. For example, a family can be taxed differently in different countries; but these are as close to reality of 2015 as possible.

These are “MOBILITY ERA. Play your taxes!” points:

 heartHealth   emoticon Social crown.pngCountry points.
So here it is… after more than 2 years of Online and life communication attempts, after few times quitting and thinking it will never happened, it happened. Maybe one day I will tell you on how the entire game was designed in 24 hours…but I let leave that for another time 🙂 .


The first version of the game will be launched and available for you to take home at PAS Maastricht Festival, where Arts meets science! This is where I will reveal what is Researchista actually about and what was that ‘urgent urge urging’ out of me before finishing my PhD.


With love for Research,




Academia enthusiasm Environment Fashion future health knowledge research Researcher Special Guest stereotype

(27) Fashion&Research, part 3: wake up your motivation for change!

You can listen to the post here: 

“So, ok, I buy a new piece of cloth (a t-shirt, trousers or a dress) from H&M or Zara for example, because it looks good and has a nice price, BUT I know that if the price is low, it probably comes from less developed countries. The label confirms where my cloth is coming from (“Made in Bangladesh”, “Made in Romania” or the famous “Made in China”). I already know from social media how hard people work there and how bad they could be treated in such environments. Not all of them, but many of them are very badly paid and work in poor conditions, some people even die while making clothes. I also know that big companies have a lot of money to lobby for very small prices to sell more clothes around the world. Moreover, I maybe know that making a new pair of jeans for example requires a lot of water and to be done at a cheap price, the wasted water goes into rivers and pollutes a lot the environment. Oh, wait! Some clothes are not even good for our skin… But… what am I supposed to do? I feel bad for those people working for 1$ a day to feed a 5 children family somewhere in Asia, but I also get my clothes for a good price… I need to go to work looking decent and good, I want to impress my boyfriend or girlfriend. What am I supposed to do to not harm anyone, myself and the planet? Where am I supposed to buy my clothes?” I hope you had this chain-of-thoughts at least once.





I find that this picture captures very well the intention of a model when posing to advertise clothes or accessories (and by no means I want to insult any fashionista with this bad quality photo!:))).

This is the month of Research in Fashion on Researchista and this topic has been chosen both, because Researchista is inspired from the word fashionista and most importantly, I was impressed by the master thesis of Hasmik Matevosyan (Utrecht Art University, HKU), based on which she had recently published a book on this topic. So, I decided to spread a piece of Research knowledge to inspire you to do something with your master or PhD theses and to actually discuss about your own ‘buying clothes behaviour’ and what is happening in the fashion industry that so many people get hurt and underpaid.

By the way, another fantastic example of a thesis (not even master level, but bachelor!) is by Maikel Bereens (Maastricht University) the idea of which grew later in a company called Xilloc, that made the world’s first 3D printed titanium skull implant:”What started as a thesis project, emerged to the largest 3D printing company in The Netherlands. Xilloc prints implants, satellite parts and soon bone like material“(in de Volkskrant).

12246683_827345350697290_5641871685880267806_n      first_titanium_small-300x147.png

(Right) Maikel Beerens,

(Left) Book “Paradigm in Fashion”, author Hasmik Matevosyan.

No worries, if you have not written a thesis, enjoy this reading or simply support those who want to make a difference!

I am exploring what are the current challenges in clothing industry and what alternatives are identified in Research. Of course, there are many Researchers out there who examine this topic, but I only have access to one, so please keep that in mind…(always look for more opinions). Welcome Researchista’s Special Guest of the month: Ms. Hasmik Matevosyan. Here she is:

What is Hasmik is trying to do is to help fashion brands to get to know their target audience to offer them clothes that will be needed and desired. I also help fashion brands produce in an ethical and environmentally way by connected people with each other (ethical factories with brands for example). Last but not least, I help fashion brands make more profit by changing their business model: from the discounts and overproduction model to a model that makes it possible to buy new clothes for the full price, lend high quality clothes for a small sum and to buy the well designed and manufactured clothes with discount when it is offered second hand by the brand.

And if you think, new alternatives are not advantageous for fast fashion brands, our Guest is proving us wrong: This new business model makes it possible to make much more profit which enables brands to invest financial resources into paying fair wages, choosing for clean production processes and choosing for quality production.

I hope this information was useful to you as a consumer or at least gave you hope that at least someone has the same concerns for other people and the environment as much as you do. The model Hasmik suggests is for companies doing fashion, but what you can do for the time being is reflect on your own fashion behaviour, I invite you to join my initiative by filling in this questionnaire. Next week, I will share with you what came out as a result of my reflections on my behaviour towards clothes.

With love for Research,




P.S. Subscribe your email on my front page to receive weekly emails with a new post every Monday!

*Sneak preview for next Monday*

So, here I was, in Bordeaux talking to my friends about Researchista going fashionista. To be clear from the start: we love fashion.


to be continued here




Academia enthusiasm knowledge Magic 3 Policy research Researcher Researchista

(23) 50/50 Story

Listen to this post here:

You can now also listen to Researchista’s new audio channel  on SoundCloud:

Dear Researchista friend, today I have 3 stories for you in 1. The first is the introduction of the story. The second is the story itself and the third is a little story about me – and the first story goes like that:

The intro: I started this blog as a 1-year experiment in which I planned that every Monday, I would post a new story. So, I promised to myself that whatever happens, there will always be a post on a Monday day, regardless how sick or busy I would be. If I commit to my readers, I go till the end of the year, every week (52 posts of the 52 weeks of the year). And here I was, thinking for the first time since I launched Researchista that maybe… I should have no Monday post this week.

I realized that this is not a typical decision and I was trying to understand what ‘hypnotized’ me from keeping my promise? Apparently, after my post called “Magic element: Academia” part of the “Magic 3 and the Earth” short story that I wrote about Academia-Policy-Business , I froze. I felt like I opened the ‘Black box’ that once opened, it is simply difficult to talk about other things. By no means, I mean it in a negative way (although, there are some things that we can’t deny),


but I mean more that academia plays such an important role in our society and current economy that it is simply impossible to leave this topic in the shadow. Did you know that probably the biggest inventions in the world were actually done at the university? Read the book of Mariana Mazzucato, for example, called the  “The Entrepreneurial State” and she will tell you all about it (or watch some videos with what her views are on it). One of the her arguments is that big businesses and ideas like smart phones or facebook might never been here if it wasn’t for universities and we might never have enjoyed these at the price we have it now…

Indeed, no wonder I froze, I want to talk about it ALL, but I need to gather all my powers to stop and tell you bit by bit about what is happening behind the university walls.  Step-by-step, we will discover Research as you might have never imagined it before. 

To make the transition smoother from the Academic magic spell story to my next Month topic Fashion and Research (stay tunned), I will take this chance and talk about the 4th character of the “Magic 3 and the Earth” story and that is “50/50” concept that I attributed to myself and many others who are working 50% in academia and 50% do policy consultancy work for national or international organisations. Just take the 50/50 character as anyone who is carrying out activity and here .. and there.. it could be also 50% in academia or 50% in business or just in general anyone working in 2 different areas.

PhD students or just Researchers at the university are often encouraged to tell to other people about their research topic in simple words, so that anyone can understand it. This is why my stories will often sounds a bit like that, but I promise that I believe in your greatest potential and you know it all and have seen it all.

50/50 Story

The story itself: So, how does it feel to work in academia and do policy work at the same time? First, let us talk more about these 2 areas to understand how these work in practice. As we can see from the previous Magic 3 & the Earth story, both academic or policy have a certain cycle or mechanism on which in general things rely on. I am by far the most knowledgeable or experienced Researcher to enlighten you in-depth about these 2 worlds, but this is how I see it and I am open for discussions, please comment on my posts sometimes, ok? 🙂 🙂

Photo credit and copyright:

So, let us have a look at the cycles below. Hmm, very interesting beautiful circles, but what do these in fact mean? One seems to be busy with publishing (academia) and the other seems to be busy with solving problems (policy).

                             Academia                                                                 Policy

publish_cycle2                  policylifecycle

And now comes the part where I will imagine I am telling this story to a child or to anyone who is new to the topic. Let’s imagine how a bread is baked. Academia is probably the best environment to make the dough and balance the salt and other ingredients in it, until the perfect taste is created. It is then maybe overnight waited to make the dough softer and then.. you have to wait a little bit more till it is baked in the oven and voila the bread is ready. This is academia, perfect environment for growth, for steady, but certain growth……

This is why so many inventions were done on the university benches……. you can not come up with a perfectly tasty bread if you did not give it enough time to grow or bake! Well, you can, but remember my word, this will never be done with natural ingredients and basically, you will get an artificial bread.

Now, imagine that you burned your bread a little bit or even more or so bad that you won’t be able to eat it. Oho! You have a problem!


and this is when the policy comes in. First you have the problem, you see the problem definition on the top of the graph? Your problem is that the bread is burned and you have nothing else to eat. So you take your burnt bread and go to your mayor or any governmental representatives (also called civil servants) and say, look, I really need to it, so please help me out. Your mayor has to react to the problem and he would ideally say: Alright, let us put it on the agenda! Then he will try to develop a strategy around the problem to try solve and ask: How many guys are you? Why did you burn the bread? Maybe you need some training to bake a proper bread? (in policy, trainings are famous) and so on, until the problem is solved. That is the implementation phase. To see how well the problem was solved, the mayor one day drops by and evaluates whether everything is OK and you have a good bread back.

Policy won’t wait for you, it is always uptempo, there are many problems to solve in this world. It is a little bit like in business, but maybe risking less money and these are most of the time tax-payers money… because… a public policy is done by the government.  (By the way, you ever wondered if policy a synonym of police, you were almost there, but not quite. Police is also assigned by the government, but a policy can be in any public area you can imagine: security, transportation, food industry, cosmetics, electricity, taxes, social protection, technology, etc.)

That was it, in a nutshell, but more seriously, academia and policy go very good together.

A Researcher that works both for the academia and in public policy domain has the privilege to carry out two important roles: to help developing a theoretical ground for a certain problem in the academia and to promote academic findings to policy makers, based on these findings can make decisions that can improve the life of people that live in a country. Sometimes, public policies like in environmental area climate change can affect the life of millions of people around the world… but this would have never happened without scientific reports and warnings from the university walls.

Musical conclusion for all those going through the entire post:) There are probably many people who carry out their work in 2 different fields.. and this is challenging. I wish you find that mid-way and enough forces to successfully combine them and enjoy the best of the two worlds, and notice that just like in life we need to cope with fear and courage, perseverance and laziness, day and night, love and hate, struggle and sunshine on a beach.

The part about me: Alright, now that this is clear I want to share with you a little story-fact about me, because we have never met before and this is my first audio-post. So, why not letting me talk a little bit more.

So, this is me.

Irina te iubesc

Just kidding, I don’t look like that all the time. This is me on Christmas evening, feeling my best myself. When I was small, I was not that pretty, because my lips were big and the boys would tease me at school, calling me “big lips”, but there was a point when I remember how the same boys were queuing to dance with me when I returned for holidays to the school in the village where we used to live. This is when I knew that something has changed.

Later when I grew up, in professional environment I would always hope that nobody would notice that I have big lips and they would appreciate my skills and just simply who I am. Well, I still hope so, because after all, this is why it is called “professional” – nothing personal, right?

The reason why I share with you this picture is because you can see it, appreciate it and create yourself an image about me (a probably false one, because I do not look like that all the time)). Well, this is more difficult to do when you see a report or an academic paper or a policy study. You can not appreciate it only by having a look at it, you need to read it, understand it and then see how it it fits in where you need. Just for you to have an idea how difficult it is sometimes to communicate academic or policy outcomes in general.

This is was one very long post, congratulations, you made it to the final! 🙂


With love for Research,