Esther Aarts

Faculty of Science

We make more than 200 food-related decisions each day. As a cognitive neuroscientist, Esther Aarts is interested in the neurocognitive and psychopharmacological processes underlying these decisions. As a biologist by training, she is also intrigued by peripheral influences on brain and cognition. For example, food motivation is increased when peptide hormones from the periphery signal hunger instead of satiety. Reversely, systemic inflammation in the body is well known to decrease motivation, such as during sickness. An important modulator of these endocrine and immune signals is the gut microbiome, the microorganisms in our intestines. The foods we choose to consume impact our gut microbiome, our immune system, and subsequently our brain functioning. This way, food and brain are bidirectionally related.


After her PhD in 2009 at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Esther went to the University of California at Berkeley for a postdoc on a Niels Stensen stipend. With several personal grants (NWO-Veni, AXA Research Fellowship), she returned to the Donders Institute (Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging) to start her group in Food & Cognition in 2012. In 2019, she was awarded an ERC starting grant on the role of inflammation and dopamine in effort-reward decisions in obesity.