Dr. Sanae Okamoto


Research group(s):
5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Sustainability Transitions

Dr. Sanae Okamoto is a psychologist and behavioural scientist with background in Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Behavioural Economics. She has an expertise in both industry and academia by applying psychology and behavioural science insights towards diverse objectives such as Circular Economy, Climate Resilience, Mental Health and Well-being from multiple angles such as Gender, Youth, Water, Disasters, Plastics, Digitalisation, AI, and Business. She also provides workshops and seminars for practitioners in public and private sectors. She is co-lead of the tri-institutional initiative of UNU-Climate Reslience Initiative.

She is currently working on multiple projects such as:

= 1. Circular Economy =

SYSCHEMIQ: European Horizon Green Deal programme: Together with a number of stakeholders from local governments to schools, working on community engagement to understand and improve Plastic Recycling behaviour by utilizing behavioural insights and psychological mechanisms.

  • More detailes from Maastricht University newsletter here
  • Details on CORDIS here.
  • COP28: UNSystem Side event on circular economy here


FUTURESILIENCE: “Creating FUTUre societal RESILIENCE through innovative, science-based co-creation labs” (Coordination and Support Action). The FUTURESILIENCE project aims to strengthen European economic and social resilience through an enhanced ability to quickly respond to future crises.

More detials on CORDIS here



This European Horizon project is comprised of six entities from Turkey, the Netherlands, Spain and Malta, InnovationGUIDE focuses on identifying regional needs and connecting rural innovation ecosystems to foster entrepreneurship and economic development in the regions to further accelerate the transition of circularity in the sectors of agriculture, fisheries, bioeconomies, and tourism.

More details on the website here.


= 2. Climate Resilience and Mental Health Impact of Climate Change =

She is co-lead of the UNU-Climate Reslience Initiative, and the research team of Community and Individual Responses and Preparedness. She is spearheading the research line of Climate Change and Mental Health, and has been active in international advocacies such as UNFCCC's climate conferences.

She also supports Youth delegates of G7 Summit 2023 (Y7) for advising the team on Global Health and Happiness.

Recent CRI report on Building Climate Resilience: Lessons from the 2021 Floods in Western Europe

The related podcast on the CRI report and climate change impacts on mental health

Key Policy Brief Series (Each downloadable from the link here)

New article on The Japan Times here


UN System High-level international events:

- COP28, 2023: United Nations System side event at COP28 on Climate Change and Mental Health: Understanding Risks and Empowering Opportunities


- COP27, 2022: United Nations System side event at COP27 on Multifaceted Impacts of Climate Change on Mental Health - Towards Integrated Climate Services


-  UN Water Conference: Water for Climate Mental Health Resilience 



i) WATER & GENDER (UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme): Gender equality in the water domain working group

UN Water Conference 2023 at UNHQ session detail here

ii) Women, Girls and Climate Vulnerble Communities

Ensuring Equitable Access to Clean Water & Sanitation for Women and Girls in Climate-Vulnerble Communities

UN Water Conference 2023 session live streaming link here.

  • Long-term and cross-generational impacts of Water / WASH insecurities on psychological development of children (especially for girls). 

Editorial members of Frontiers in Water: Link

iii) World Water Week Session: Sustainable Urban Water for Health and Well-being 

UNU-IAS (key host), and co-organized with UNU-FLORES, CRIS, INWEH, EHS: IAS's News letter: Link 

IV) Circular Economy WATER in the Latin America Region

A coalition to integrate circular economy-focused advances and innovations to water for sustainable development. That includes social and economic development in urban areas as well as regional development.


Short bio:

She received her MSc in Psychology from Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Japan and her PhD in Psychology from Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University. Her MSc and PhD reseaerch were conducted at Kyoto University, Japan and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany.

Her early research career focused on social dynamics and behaviour in primates (chimpanzees and humans) at Kyoto University and Nagoya University, Japan; the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany; University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA; and the field sites in Republic of Guinea and Republic of Liberia.

In the last years, she worked as an assistant professor of behavioural economics and neuroeconomics at the School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University. Before officially joining at MERIT in the early 2021, she was in private sector to address societal challenges and behavioural interventions and contributed to a number of consultancy projects and workshops in behavioural insights informed interventions, business development; program management; university-industry liaison, etc. 

She is also a member of the Comprehensive Innovation Team - System Transition and Climate Action (led by Dr. Turkeli) 


Selected recent publications:

UNESCO World Water Development Report 2024: Water for Prosperity and Peace. Chapter contribution: Human settlements: WASH, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Migration: https://www.unesco.org/reports/wwdr/en/2024

Okamoto, S. (2024). We are finally recognizing climate change's toll of mental health. in The Japan Times, 2024-Jan-24. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/commentary/2024/01/24/world/climat-change-cop28-mental-health/

Interview featured in UNRIC United Nations Regional Information Center, 'Climate change and its impacts on mental health' in English, French and Dutch. https://unric.org/en/climate-change-its-impacts-on-mental-health/ 

Okamoto, S. Nagabhatla, N. (2023). The mental health challenge of climate change. Diplomatic Courier. 27-11-2023. www.diplomaticourier.com/posts/mental-health-challenge-climate-change

Okamoto, S. Nagabhatla, N., Weru, K., Oakes, R. (2023). Key Policy Brief Series on Climate Change and Mental Health series: Co-creating a resilient future (Each downloadable from the link here): Policy Brief 1: Multiple and disaggrefated impacts; Policy Brief 2: Risk factors, vulnerabilities and inequalities; Policy Brief 3: Opportunities, solutions and future generations 01-12-2023. UNU-MERIT, UNU-EHS, UNU-CRIS

Journalist Interview featured in Scientific American '‘AI Anxiety’ Is on the Rise—Here’s How to Manage It', by Lauren Leffer, 2023-Oct-02, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ai-anxiety-is-on-the-rise-heres-how-to-manage-it/

Hagenlocher, M., Okamoto, S., Nagabhatla, N. Libya flood reveals disaster prevention deficit in fragile states. Thomson Reuters Context, 2023-10-13, https://www.context.news/climate-risks/opinion/libya-flood-reveals-disaster-prevention-deficit-in-fragile-states

Okamoto, S. "Worried About AI? You Might Have AI-nxiety — Here’s How to Cope," United Nations University, UNU Centre, UNU-MERIT, 2023-07-04, https://unu.edu/article/worried-about-ai-you-might-have-ai-nxiety-heres-how-cope. JP version: https://ourworld.unu.edu/jp/worried-about-ai-you-might-have-ai-nxiety-heres-how-cope Our World UNU Online Managinze

Okamoto, S. (2023). Worried about AI? You might have AI-nxiety. Here is how to cope. The Conversationhttps://theconversation.com/worried-about-ai-you-might-have-ai-nxiety-heres-how-to-cope-205874

Hagenlocher, M., Okamoto, S., Nagabhatla, N., et al. (2023). Building Climate Resilience: Lessons from the 2021 Floods in Western Europe

Contribution to Chapter 6 Health and Chapter 11 Innovation (2023): World Water Development Report 2023

Okamoto, S. & Nagabhatla, N. (2023). Climate change's impact on mental health is overlooked and misunderstood - here's what can be done. Our World UNU Online Managinze.

Okamoto, S. & Nagabhatla, N. (2022). 'Climate change’s impact on mental health is overlooked and misunderstood – here’s what can be done' The Conversation.

Nagabhatla, Werners, S.E., Bhandari, S., Okamoto, S., & Caucchi, S. (2022). Learning From European Floods 2021 Towards Resilience-Focused Recovery Pathways: Flood Risk Governance To Facilitate Climate-Resilient Pathways. Joint Publication REPORT: Climate Resilient Water Resources Management - Driving the Conversation Forward. Water and Climate Coalition (WCC) p.10-13. 

Okamoto, S., Sluismans, R. (2021). The COP26: Psychological game behind a successful negotiation. The Conversation.

Lopes, C. A., Okamoto, S. (2020). Stopping the coronavirus: What does the evidence say are the best measures? The Conversation.

Leticia, R.O., Okamoto, S., Goebel, R., Riedl, A. (2018). Positive and negative reciprocity: Two sides of the same coin? Proceedings at Society for Neuroscience.

Gross, J., Méder, Z., Okamoto-Barth, S., Riedl, A. (2016). Building the Leviathan – Voluntary centralisation of punishment power sustains cooperation in humans. Scientific Reports 620767. 

Gross, J., Wolebert, E., Zimmermann, J., Okamoto-Barth, S., Riedl, A., Goebel, R. (2014). Value signals in the prefrontal cortex predict individual preferences across reward categories. Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (22) 7580-7586; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5082-13.2014.

Op-ed blog outlets:

Nagabhatla, N., Okamoto, S., & Bhandari, S. (2021). The new normal of Climate Grief: Why mental must feature in adaptation and resilience planning. UNU-MERIT, UNU-CRIS, UNU-IIGH

Okamoto, S. (2020). Trust is a vital commodity in a pandemic how one Dutch coalition is matchmaking solutions online. UNU-MERIT blog series.

Okamoto, S. (2019). What does the future hold for our universities from talent engines to tech literacy? UNU-MERIT blog series.

Ramani, S. & Okamoto, S. (2018). A global nudge for sustainable development – GLOBELICS.

Recent book chapters:

Holden, N., Okamoto, S. Nobrega, C., Venkataramani R., and Virgolino J. (2022). ‘Governance insights from Japan for building disaster resilient communities’ in chapter ‘Governance challenges of SDG 11: Case studies from India, Brazil and Japan’ in SDG11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. Eds. Ramani S. and Hettiarachchi, H., Rutledge/Tailor & Francis

Okamoto, S. & Inoue, F. (2019). Global survey of Best practices at higher education institutions – Diversification and quality assurance of vocational education. Annual reports for Japan Society for Promotion of Science 17K01146.

Okamoto-Barth, S. (2018). In J. Vonk and T. K. Shackelford (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Springer Nature: New York.


Other engagements

= Corporate Social/Environmental Responsibility = 

Together with VKWLimburg (Small and Medium sized Enterprizes association) and Trinity Business School in Ireland, investigating corporate pro-environmental practices and green innovations among SMEs in European countries and beyond.

  • Brief report on VKW Limburg here
  • News outlet on HBVL here 

Consumer behaviour and environmental psychology: Together with a number of international collaborators (Switzerlands, NL, UK, India), she has been investigating how design or product information improve consumer behaviour, and to identify behavioural spillovers that can be utlized for developing effective behavioural interventions.

Triple-helix relations: As a member of advisory board at University Industry Innovation Network, she contributes to triple-helix engagement and facilitates collaboration between European and non-Western university-industry relations. She also provides executive courses on behavioural change within HEI organizations through the nudge approach. Currently, she is working on a meta-analytical study on university-industry collaboration case studies by unsupervised machine learning techniques to identify university business development strategies.

Entrepreneurship education: As a program coordinator for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, she led a global survey of good practices at higher education institutions and governemnt agencies with a special focus on advanced programs of entrepreneurial education and innovation ecosystem in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, UK, Finland, USA, Australia.