As a participant in the Jean d’Alembert Fellowship Programme, Professor Suzanne Higgs spent three months visiting Université Paris-Saclay (UPS) from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham in the UK.
Prof. Higgs studies something we do every day. Sometimes we do it for survival and other times we do it to satisfy a craving or enjoy a social gathering. Her expertise lies in the psychobiology of appetite and in particular, the role cognition has on our relationship with food. Cognition refers to how we think, learn, remember, and pay attention to things – all of which play an often subtle but instrumental role in how and what we eat.
Hosted by UPS researchers, Associate Prof. Nicolas Darcel and Prof. Daniel Tomé, at the Institute of Technology for Life, Food, and Environmental Sciences (AgroParisTech), Prof. Higgs spent her time at their lab focused on physiology and nutrition (Physiologie de la nutrition et du comportement alimentaire). Having visited Paris and other regions of France extensively, Prof. Higgs explains that, “the Paris area is very well-known for its research on eating behaviour. Though I knew some of its researchers through conferences and long-distance collaborations, it was a different kind of experience to get to work together day-to-day over the past few months”.
With backgrounds in nutrition, physiology, psychology, sociology and neurobiology, the team was able to learn a lot from one another by exchanging knowledge and ideas about some of the complementary research they currently have underway. Together, they are looking to answer some important questions about how social context may affect how much we eat. If you have ever asked yourself why it’s so hard to stick to a particular diet or what makes our food satisfying, this group of researchers might have some answers for you! To ensure we have enough nutritious food today and for generations to come, they are also interested in looking at some of these questions through the lens of sustainability – efforts to lower the environmental impact of food intake and production.
Though Prof. Higgs’ initial visit was short, she will soon return for another three-month stay. She is excited to continue planning future research, collaborating on publications, and getting involved with teaching activities for a Masters program led by AgroParisTech. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity the fellowship has provided me. I think it has really planted the roots for long-term collaboration and it has also been a great way for me to continue practicing my French,” concludes Prof. Higgs.