Dr Pascal Vrticka

Senior Lecturer
Department of Psychology
Dr Pascal Vrticka



Dr Pascal Vrticka is currently a Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology, University of Essex (Colchester, UK), where he leads the Social Neuroscience of Human Attachment (SoNeAt) Lab as Principal Investigator. He furthermore acts as Coordinating Board President of the Special Interest Research Group Social Neuroscience of Human Attachment (SIRG SoNeAt) situated within the Society for Emotion and Attachment Studies (SEAS) where he also is an Associate Member of the Executive Board (2020-2023). In addition, since 2022, Dr Pascal Vrticka acts an Associate Trustee of the UK registered Charity Babygro. Dr Pascal Vrticka studied biochemistry and neurobiology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich (Switzerland) to earn a Bachelor & Master in Science - Biology (1999-2005). He then moved to the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences hosted by the University of Geneva (Switzerland) where he obtained a PhD in (Social) Neuroscience under the Supervision of Prof Patrik Vuilleumier (2006-2009). After two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences in association with the Faculty of Psychology, University of Geneva (Switzerland) and Prof David Sander (2010-2011), Dr Pascal Vrticka moved to Stanford School of Medicine (California, USA). Thanks to a fellowship for advanced researchers from the Swiss National Research Foundation, he was able to secure a position as postdoctoral scholar with Prof Allan Reiss at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences (2012-2014). Moving back to Europe, Dr Pascal Vrticka further advanced his research programme at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig (Germany), where he held several positions as a Research Scientist, Group Leader, and Senior Scientist. During this time, he actively collaborated with the University of Leipzig (Faculty of Life Sciences, University Clinic, and Leipzig Research Center for Early Child Development) in both teaching and student supervision, and obtained extensive funding by the Max Planck Society for several multidisciplinary research projects (2014-2020).


  • PhD in Neuroscience University of Geneva, (2009)

  • Bachelor & Master in Science (Biology) Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, (2005)


University of Essex

  • Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor, Psychology, University of Essex (1/10/2023 - present)

  • Lecturer / Assistant Professor, Psychology, University of Essex (1/3/2020 - 30/9/2023)

Other academic

  • Research Scientist, Group Leader & Senior Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (16/5/2014 - 15/2/2020)

  • Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University School of Medicine (1/4/2012 - 31/3/2014)

  • Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Geneva (1/1/2010 - 31/12/2011)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) Hyperscanning

Assessment of interpersonal neural synchrony in adult-adult and parent-child dyads

Key words: fNIRS
Open to supervise

Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience

Understanding the neurobiological basis of human attachment and caregiving by combining attachment theory with social neuroscience methods

Key words: Social Neuroscience
Open to supervise


Investigation of brain function and structure by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI / fMRI).

Key words: Affective Neuroscience
Open to supervise

Bio-Behavioural and Interpersonal Neural Synchrony

Assessment of temporal coordination / alignment of behaviour as well as brain activity, especially in parent-child dyads, also with a special focus on fathers

Key words: Behaviour
Open to supervise


The neurobiology of parenthood - with a focus on both mothers and fathers as well as parent-child interaction, also from an attachment perspective.

Key words: Father-Child Interaction
Open to supervise


Investigating the interaction between genes and the environment from an attachment theory perspective

Key words: DNA Methylation
Open to supervise

(Functional) Magnetic Resonance Imaging - (f)MRI

Investigation of brain activity and structure as part of the social neuroscience of human attachment and caregiving

Key words: fMRI
Open to supervise

Current research

CARE Studies

Series of three collaborative, interdisciplinary and multi-method studies (CARE, D-CARE, and M-CARE) to combine several aspects of attachment research with state-of-the-art social neuroscience techniques in parents (both mothers and fathers) with their preschool children. Main elements: (i) fNIRS hyperscanning in parent-child dyads, (ii) video recordings during fNIRS and ratings of interaction according to attachment-theory derived coding schemes, (iii) self-report questionnaires and narrative measures (adult attachment interview; story stems) of attachment and caregiving in parents and children, (iv) (f)MRI scanning in parents to assess brain anatomy and function in relation with inter-individual differences in attachment and caregiving, and (v) associations between the above elements.
More information about this project

ARC Study

Collaborative study on attachment and resonance in couples (ARC) with the Research Group "Social Stress and Family Health" at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain sciences in Leipzig (Germany). Investigation of bio-behavioral synchrony (inter-brain coherence: fNIRS, physiology: heart rate and cortisol from saliva, behavior: observations from video recordings) in adult romantic couples under stress from an attachment perspective.
More information about this project

GenR Study Data Analysis

International collaboration to analyse parts of the GenR longitudinal study data relating to genetics & epigenetics of human attachment in children from birth to age 10.
More information about this project

Project Alpha

Cooperation (as Co-I) in a privately funded longitudinal cohort study of 1’500 Israeli couples launched in fall 2018. Couples and their children will be followed for several years by using behavioral as well as genetic and epigenetic methods.
More information about this project

Social and Emotional Relevance

Collaborative investigation of neural relevance processing using fMRI and (i)EEG in the context of appraisal theories of emotion. Focus on relevance in terms of social (versus nonsocial) content and emotional (positive, negative, neutral) valence of processed information.
More information about this project

Conferences and presentations

Are we on the same wavelength? Individual differences in interpersonal neural synchrony

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, Affect, Personality and the Embodied Brain (APE) 2022 Meeting, 22/9/2022

Is your brain securely attached? A social neuroscience perspective on attachment

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, British Association for Child Community Health (BACCH) Annual Scientific Meeting 2022, 20/9/2022

Epigenetics Meets Social Neuroscience of Human Attachment

Keynote presentation, Organised one-day hybrid conference with about 100 participants, Colchester, United Kingdom, 5/7/2022

Attachment Theory Revisited – A 21st Century Social Neuroscience Perspective

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, 23rd Psychology Days, University of Zadar, Zadar, Croatia, 26/5/2022

The securely attached brain: attachment and brain anatomy in adolscence

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, Réseau Francophone – Thérapies basées sur la Mentalisation: Seminaire de Recherche, 1/12/2021

Invited talk as part of the Presidential Symposium

Invited presentation, Society for Psychophysiological Research Annual Meeting 2021, 15/10/2021

Organised a virtual conference with over 100 participants

SoNeAt Conference 2021, 23/9/2021

Organised a virtual conference workshop with 150 participants

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, SoNeAt Workshop 2020, 12/8/2020

Bio-behavioural synchrony and inter-brain coherence: an attachment perspective

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, NeuroSync 2020, Virtual Conference, 13/6/2020

The Social Neuroscience of Attachment: State-of-the-Art and Future Directions

Invited presentation, Keynote presentation, The Future of Neuroscience, Attachment and Mentalizing: from research to clinical practice, London, United Kingdom, 18/5/2019

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Clinical Applications 1 (HS762)

  • Growing in the World (PS102)

  • Body, Senses and Existence (PS502)

  • Psychopathology (PS504)

  • MSc Psychology Research Project (PS900)

  • Numerical Methods in Cognitive Neuroscience (PS948)


Publications (7)

Dor, TE., Verbeke, WJMI., Mokry, M. and Vrticka, P., Epigenetic Modification of the Oxytocin and Glucocorticoid Receptor Genes is linked to Attachment Avoidance in young Adults

Rigato, S., Vrticka, P., Stets, M. and Holmboe, K., Mother-infant interaction characteristics associate with infant falling reactivity and child peer problems at pre-school age

Nguyen, T., Kungl, M., Hoehl, S., White, LO. and Vrticka, P., Visualizing the Invisible Tie: Linking Parent-Child Neural Synchrony to Parents’ and Children’s Attachment Representations

Kungl, M., Gabler, S., White, LO., Spangler, G. and Vrticka, P., (2022). Precursors and effects of parental reflective functioning: Links to caregivers' attachment representations and behavioral sensitivity

Nguyen, T., Hoehl, S. and Vrticka, P., (2021). A Guide to Parent-Child fNIRS Hyperscanning Data Analysis

Nguyen, T., Schleihauf, H., Kungl, M., Kayhan, E., Hoehl, S. and Vrticka, P., (2020). Interpersonal neural synchrony during father-child problem solving: An fNIRS hyperscanning study

Puhlmann, LMC., Vrtička, P., Linz, R., Stalder, T., Kirschbaum, C., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2020). Contemplative mental training reduces hair glucocorticoid levels in a randomized clinical trial

Journal articles (48)

Puhlmann, L., Derome, M., Morosan, L., Kilicel, D., Vrticka, P. and Debbane, M., (2023). Association between self-reported attachment and neurostructural development throughout adolescence. Attachment and Human Development. 25 (1), 162-180

Kungl, M., Vrticka, P., Heinisch, C., Beckmann, MW., Fasching, PA., Ziegler, C. and Spangler, G., (2023). Deactivating attachment strategies associate with early processing of facial emotion and familiarity in middle childhood: An ERP study. Attachment and Human Development. 25 (1), 199-217

White, L., Kungl, M. and Vrticka, P., (2023). Charting the social neuroscience of human attachment (SoNeAt). Attachment and Human Development. 25 (1), 1-18

Burra, N. and Vrticka, P., (2023). Association between Attachment Anxiety and the Gaze Direction-Related N170. Attachment and Human Development. 25 (1), 181-198

Schulz, C., von Klitzing, K., Deserno, L., Sheridan, MA., Crowley, MJ., Schoett, MJS., Hoffmann, F., Villringer, A., Vrticka, P. and White, LO., (2022). Emotional maltreatment and neglect impact neural activation upon exclusion in early and mid-adolescence: An event-related fMRI study. Development and Psychopathology. 34 (2), 573-585

Hoehne, K., Vrtička, P., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2022). Plasma oxytocin is modulated by mental training, but does not mediate its stress-buffering effect. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 141, 105734-105734

Nguyen, T., Schleihauf, H., Kayhan, E., Mathes, D., Vrticka, P. and Hoehl, S., (2021). Neural synchrony in mother-child conversation: Exploring the role of communicative features. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 16 (1-2), 93-102

Nguyen, T., Schleihauf, H., Kungl, M., Kayhan, E., Hoehl, S. and Vrticka, P., (2021). Interpersonal neurobehavioral synchrony during father-child problem solving: An fNIRS hyperscanning study. Child Development. 92 (4), e565-e580

White, LO., Bornemann, B., Crowley, MJ., Sticca, F., Vrticka, P., Stadelmann, S., Otto, Y., Klein, AM. and von Klitzing, K., (2021). Exclusion Expected? Cardiac Slowing Upon Peer Exclusion Links Preschool Parent Representations to School‐Age Peer Relationships. Child Development. 92 (4), 1274-1290

Puhlmann, R., Linz, R., Valk, S., Vrticka, P., Vos de Wael, R., Bernasconi, A., Bernasconi, N., Caldairou, B., Papassoririou, I., Chrousos, G., Bernhardt, B., Singer, T. and Engert, V., (2021). The association between hippocampal structure and serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in healthy adults: a registered report. NeuroImage. 236, 118011-118011

Nguyen, T., Hoehl, S. and Vrticka, P., (2021). A Guide to Parent-Child fNIRS Hyperscanning Data Processing and Analysis. Sensors. 21 (12), 4075-4075

Puhlmann, L., Vrticka, P., Linz, R., Stalder, T., Kirschbaum, C., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2021). Contemplative mental training reduces hair glucocorticoid levels in a randomized clinical trial. Psychosomatic Medicine. 83 (8), 894-905

Long, M., Puhlmann, L. and Vrticka, P., (2021). Hypothalamus volume in men: Investigating associations with paternal status, self-reported caregiving beliefs and adult attachment style. Social Neuroscience. 16 (6), 639-652

van Assche, M., Simioni, S., Vrticka, P., Sander, D., Schluep, M. and Vuilleumier, P., (2021). Neuroimaging of emotional dysregulation in multiple sclerosis: relationship with alexithymia. Swiss Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry. 172

Miller, JG., Shrestha, S., Reiss, AL. and Vrticka, P., (2020). Neural bases of social feedback processing and self–other distinction in late childhood: The role of attachment and age. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience. 20 (3), 503-520

Long, M., Verbeke, W., Ein-Dor, T. and Vrticka, P., (2020). A functional neuro-anatomical model of human attachment (NAMA): Insights from first- and second-person social neuroscience. Cortex. 126, 281-321

Nguyen, T., Schleihauf, H., Kayhan, E., Matthes, D., Vrtička, P. and Hoehl, S., (2020). The effects of interaction quality on neural synchrony during mother-child problem solving.. Cortex. 124, 235-249

White, L., Schulz, C., Schoett, M., Kungl, M., Keil, J., Borelli, J. and Vrticka, P., (2020). Conceptual Analysis: A Social Neuroscience Approach to Interpersonal Interaction in the Context of Disruption and Disorganization of Attachment (NAMDA). Frontiers in Psychiatry. 11, 517372-

Puhlmann, LMC., Valk, SL., Engert, V., Bernhardt, BC., Lin, J., Epel, ES., Vrticka, P. and Singer, T., (2019). Association of Short-term Change in Leukocyte Telomere Length With Cortical Thickness and Outcomes of Mental Training Among Healthy Adults. JAMA Network Open. 2 (9), e199687-e199687

Przyrembel, M., Vrticka, P., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2019). Loving-kindness meditation — A queen of hearts?: A physio-phenomenological investigation on the variety of experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 26 (7-8), 95-129

Miller, JG., Vrtička, P., Cui, X., Shrestha, S., Hosseini, SMH., Baker, JM. and Reiss, AL., (2019). Inter-brain synchrony in mother-child dyads during cooperation: An fNIRS hyperscanning study. Neuropsychologia. 124, 117-124

Burra, N., Massait, S. and Vrticka, P., (2019). Differential impact of trait, social, and attachment anxiety on the stare-in-the-crowd effect. Scientific Reports. 9 (1), 1797-

Puhlmann, LMC., Engert, V., Apostolakou, F., Papassotiriou, I., Chrousos, GP., Vrtička, P. and Singer, T., (2019). Only vulnerable adults show change in chronic low-grade inflammation after contemplative mental training: evidence from a randomized clinical trial.. Scientific Reports. 9 (1), 19323-

Dubourg, L., Vrticka, P., Pouillard, V., Eliez, S. and Schneider, M., (2019). Divergent default mode network connectivity during social perception in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.. Psychiatry research. Neuroimaging. 291, 9-17

Lumma, A., Valk, SL., Böckler, A., Vrtička, P. and Singer, T., (2018). Change in emotional self‐concept following socio‐cognitive training relates to structural plasticity of the prefrontal cortex. Brain and Behavior. 8 (4), e00940-

Ein-Dor, T., Verbeke, WJMI., Mokry, M. and Vrticka, P., (2018). Epigenetic modification of the oxytocin and glucocorticoid receptor genes is linked to attachment avoidance in young adults. Attachment & Human Development. 20 (4), 439-454

Schacht, A. and Vrticka, P., (2018). Spatiotemporal pattern of appraising social and emotional relevance: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. 18 (6), 1172-1187

Dubourg, L., Vrticka, P., Debbané, M., Chambaz, L., Eliez, S. and Schneider, M., (2018). Neural correlates of socio-emotional perception in 22q11.2 deletion syndrome.. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders. 10 (1), 13-

Lumma, A-L., Böckler, A., Vrticka, P. and Singer, T., (2017). Who am I? Differential effects of three contemplative mental trainings on emotional word use in self-descriptions. Self and Identity. 16 (5), 607-628

Debbané, M., Badoud, D., Sander, D., Eliez, S., Luyten, P. and Vrticka, P., (2017). Brain activity underlying negative self- and other-perception in adolescents: The role of attachment-derived self-representations. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience. 17 (3), 554-576

Baker, JM., Liu, N., Cui, X., Vrticka, P., Saggar, M., Hosseini, SMH. and Reiss, AL., (2016). Sex differences in neural and behavioral signatures of cooperation revealed by fNIRS hyperscanning. Scientific Reports. 6 (1), 26492-

Saggar, M., Vrticka, P. and Reiss, AL., (2016). Understanding the influence of personality on dynamic social gesture processing: An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia. 80, 71-78

Vrtička, P., Sander, D., Anderson, B., Badoud, D., Eliez, S. and Debbané, M., (2014). Social feedback processing from early to late adolescence: influence of sex, age, and attachment style. Brain and Behavior. 4 (5), 703-720

Debbané, M., Vrtička, P., Lazouret, M., Badoud, D., Sander, D. and Eliez, S., (2014). Self-reflection and positive schizotypy in the adolescent brain. Schizophrenia Research. 152 (1), 65-72

Vrticka, P., Lordier, L., Bediou, B. and Sander, D., (2014). Human amygdala response to dynamic facial expressions of positive and negative surprise.. Emotion. 14 (1), 161-169

Vrticka, P., Black, JM. and Reiss, AL., (2013). The neural basis of humour processing. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 14 (12), 860-868

Vrticka, P., Black, JM., Neely, M., Walter Shelly, E. and Reiss, AL., (2013). Humor processing in children: Influence of temperament, age and IQ. Neuropsychologia. 51 (13), 2799-2811

Vrticka, P., Neely, M., Walter Shelly, E., Black, JM. and Reiss, AL., (2013). Sex differences during humor appreciation in child-sibling pairs. Social Neuroscience. 8 (4), 291-304

Vrticka, P., Sander, D. and Vuilleumier, P., (2013). Lateralized interactive social content and valence processing within the human amygdala. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 6 (DEC), 2-31

Vrticka, P., Simioni, S., Fornari, E., Schluep, M., Vuilleumier, P. and Sander, D., (2013). Neural Substrates of Social Emotion Regulation: A fMRI Study on Imitation and Expressive Suppression to Dynamic Facial Signals. Frontiers in Psychology. 4 (FEB), 95-

Vrticka, P., (2012). Interpersonal Closeness and Social Reward Processing: Figure 1.. The Journal of Neuroscience. 32 (37), 12649-12650

Vrtička, P., Bondolfi, G., Sander, D. and Vuilleumier, P., (2012). The neural substrates of social emotion perception and regulation are modulated by adult attachment style. Social Neuroscience. 7 (5), 473-493

Vrtička, P., Sander, D. and Vuilleumier, P., (2012). Influence of adult attachment style on the perception of social and non-social emotional scenes. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 29 (4), 530-544

Vrticka, P. and Vuilleumier, P., (2012). Neuroscience of human social interactions and adult attachment style. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 6 (JULY), 212-

Vrtička, P., Sander, D. and Vuilleumier, P., (2011). Effects of emotion regulation strategy on brain responses to the valence and social content of visual scenes. Neuropsychologia. 49 (5), 1067-1082

Vrtička, P., Andersson, F., Sander, D. and Vuilleumier, P., (2009). Memory for friends or foes: The social context of past encounters with faces modulates their subsequent neural traces in the brain. Social Neuroscience. 4 (5), 384-401

Buchmann, A., Mondadori, CRA., Hänggi, J., Aerni, A., Vrticka, P., Luechinger, R., Boesiger, P., Hock, C., Nitsch, RM., de Quervain, DJ-F., Papassotiropoulos, A. and Henke, K., (2008). Prion protein M129V polymorphism affects retrieval-related brain activity. Neuropsychologia. 46 (9), 2389-2402

Vrticka, P., Andersson, F., Grandjean, D., Sander, D. and Vuilleumier, P., (2008). Individual Attachment Style Modulates Human Amygdala and Striatum Activation during Social Appraisal. PLoS ONE. 3 (8), e2868-e2868

Book chapters (2)

Vrticka, P., Favre, P. and Singer, T., (2017). Compassion and the brain. In: Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications. Editors: Gilbert, P., . Routledge. 135- 150. 9781138957183

Vrtička, P., (2017). The Social Neuroscience of Attachment. In: Neuroscience and Social Science: The Missing Link.. Editors: Ibanez, A., Sedeno, L. and Garcia, AM., . Springer International Publishing. 95- 119. 9783319684208

Conferences (9)

Vrticka, P., Nguyen, T., White, L., Kungl, M. and Hoehl, S., Parent-Child Inter-Brain Coherence as a Potential New Biomarker for Relationship Quality, Attachment, and Caregiving

Vrticka, P., Nguyen, T. and Hoehl, S., On the same Wavelength: Assessing Interpersonal Neural Synchrony in Parent-Child Dyads using fNIRS Hyperscanning


Puhlmann, L., Vrtička, P., Linz, R., Papassotiriou, I., Chrousos, GP., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2021). Serum BDNF increase and the role of cortisol reduction following contemplative mental training

Hoehne, K., Vrticka, P., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2021). Does plasma oxytocin mediate stress reduction after compassion-based mental training?

Schacht, A., Weber, S. and Vrticka, P., (2019). Spatiotemporal Patterns of Social and Emotional Relevance in Scene Perception: Evidence From ERPs and fMRI

Engert, V., Vrticka, P. and Singer, T., (2019). No effect of distinct mental training types on basal or stress-induced plasma oxytocin levels

Christine Puhlmann, LM., Vrticka, P., Linz, R., Stalder, T., Kirschbaum, C., Engert, V. and Singer, T., (2019). Different types of mental practice unspecifically reduce cortisol and cortisone exposure in hair

Puhlmann, LMC., Vrticka, P., Epel, ES. and Singer, T., (2019). Does a nine-month contemplative mental training intervention in healthy adults influence leukocyte telomere length?



Colchester Campus

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