2014-2019: Pragmatic and Epistemic Role of Factually Erroneous Cognitions and Thoughts

I was awarded a European Research Council Consolidator Grant ( 1,900,075to study the pragmatic and epistemic features of pathological and non-pathological cognitions. The five-year project is called PERFECT and started in October 2014. It involves a research team including post-doctoral researchers (Ema Sullivan-BissettKathy Puddifoot, Sophie Stammers and Andrea Polonioli) and PhD students (Magdalena Antrobus and Valeria Motta). It also involves the participation of clinical psychologist Michael Larkin.

PERFECT aims to establish whether cognitions that are inaccurate in some important respect can be good for us from a pragmatic or epistemic point of view. 

Can delusional beliefs, distorted memories, confabulatory explanations, which are frequent in the non-clinical population and also listed as symptoms of psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and dementia, be adaptive, psychologically beneficial, and even epistemically advantageous? 

PERFECT was featured in the University of Birmingham Heroes campaign in November 2015.

Selected project outputs:

2015-2016: Costs and Benefits of Optimism

I was awarded a 12-month non-residential fellowship (worth $76,299) as part of the Hope and Optimism funding initiative supported by the John Templeton Foundation and managed by the universities of Cornell and Notre Dame in the United States. 

The project aimed to: (1) clarify what the optimism bias is and how it works; (2) investigate its effects on rationality, the acquisition of knowledge, and moral behaviour. 

The research fellow on the project was Anneli Jefferson. Outputs included a conference on the optimism bias, and four original papers, authored by Anneli and myself. We also guest-edited a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the themes of the fellowship.

Selected project outputs:

2013-2014: AHRC Fellowship on the Epistemic Innocence of Imperfect Cognitions

From September 2013 for 12 months I was funded by an AHRC Fellowship (Science in Culture theme) to pursue an investigation of the potential epistemic benefits of delusional beliefs, distorted memories, and confabulatory explanations. Ema Sullivan-Bissett worked with me on the project as a part-time research fellow.

The project outputs include a monograph on the topic, which is still in preparation, several research papers (see below), and a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. The project workshop was held in May 2014 at the University of Birmingham. 

As part of the project, we also created an international network of researchers, the Imperfect Cognitions research network, featuring scholars from different disciplinary backgrounds and at different stages of their career. 

Selected project outputs:

2013: Wellcome Trust funded project on Moral Responsibility and Psychopathology

I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Small Grant in the Ethics & Society stream to organise an interdisciplinary one-day workshop on moral responsibility and psychopathology. 

With the grant co-applicants, Matthew Broome and Matteo Mameli, I ask what the relationship should be between an agent's diagnosis of mental illness and an attribution of less than full moral responsibility to that agent.
Selected project outputs:

2011: Wellcome Trust funded project on Rationality and Sanity

My project entitled "Rationality and Sanity: Implications of a Diagnosis of Mental Illness for Autonomy as Self Governance" was funded by the Wellcome Trust with a Research Expenses Grant (January-June 2011). I looked at the relationship between rationality and sanity and its consequences for diagnosis in psychiatry.

This was the starting point in order to then explore the notion of autonomy as self-governance and distinguish between two questions: (a) whether one has the capacity to govern oneself; and (b) whether one is successful at governing oneself. In this context, I explored the philosophical literature on the right not to know, especially when the object of knowledge is information about oneself obtained via genetic testing. I also wrote a guest post for the Wellcome Trust blog on the right not to know in the context of psychiatric disorders.
Project outputs:

2009: AHRC-funded leave to investigate authorship and ownership of thoughts

From January to end of April 2009 I was on AHRC-funded leave to complete a number of articles on delusions and a monograph for Oxford University Press in the International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry Series.  My research question was: Are ownership and authorship of thoughts necessary for intentionality and rationality? 
The monograph, entitled Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs, was published in November 2009 and contributes both to the debate on the doxastic conception of delusions and to the literature on belief ascription. I was awarded the American Philosophical Association book prize for the monograph in December 2011. A book I co-edited with Matthew Broome, entitled Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives, was listed among the Guardian Books of the Year in 2009.

2008: Endeavour Research Fellowship to investigate delusions

From July to December 2008 I was Endeavour Research Fellow at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science (now ARC Centre of Excellence of Cognition and its Disorder) at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, working on a project on rationality and self-knowledge in delusions. The Fellowship was funded by the Department of Science, Education and Training of the Australian Government. In my time at Macquarie I participated in the Delusions and Hypnosis reading group together with Max Coltheart, Robyn Langdon, Amanda Barnier, Rochelle Cox, and other philosophers and psychologists working on delusions.
Here are two papers co-authored with researchers at MACCS:
  • L Bortolotti, R Cox and A Barnier (2012). Can we recreate delusions in the laboratory? Philosophical Psychology 25 (1), 109-131.
  • L Bortolotti and R Cox (2009). 'Faultless ignorance': strengths and limitations of epistemic definitions of confabulation. Consciousness & Cognition 18 (4), 952-965.

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