Past Lectures


Tuesday, February 21, 2017
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

The Evolution, Purpose, and Consequences of Religious Prosociality

Azim Shariff
Department of Psychology
University of California, Irvine

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology, the Center for Ethics / Program in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding, the Graduate Division of Religion, and the Hightower Fund

Why do today's religions look and function the way they do? Presenting research primarily on religion’s effects on prosocial behavior and prejudice toward outgroups, I will argue that the form and function of modern religions can be understood as the legacy of a millennia-long process of cultural evolution. Our recent research has begun to empirically test perennially debated questions about whether religions make people act more ethically, what functions religions have served, and why some religious traditions have fared better than others. The results reveal that while the social consequences of religion are not always desirable, they can be explained as the product of cultural adaptations that served vital social functions. In particular, I’ll discuss how recurrent elements throughout religions have served to stabilize cooperation among large groups of unrelated strangers, and maximize survival in intergroup competition. Finally, I’ll speak about how this cultural evolutionary perspective informs predictions about the future of religion.  Altogether, this research demonstrates how social psychological research can add important empirical data to heated debates about the values and vices of religion in the modern world.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

Immersive Virtual Reality as a Research Tool for the Behavioral Sciences 

Kerry Marsh
Department of Psychology
University of Connecticut

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology

This talk discusses the wide-ranging potential of immersive virtual reality (IVR) as a research tool in the behavioral sciences. The speaker will discuss her research using IVR to study mundane judgments of the built environment, her emergency evacuation IVR work conducted with engineers and disaster experts, and her social-health work studying HIV risk behavior in highly interactive dating scenarios with virtual dating partners.

Thursday, March 30, 2017        
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

The Disruptive Force of Endangered Language Documentation on Linguistics and Beyond

Shobhana Chelliah
Department of Linguistics
University of North Texas

Co-sponsored by the Emory Program in Lingustics and the Hightower Fund

Language Documentation is a reborn, refashioned, and reenergized subfield of linguistics motivated by the urgent task of creating a record of the world’s fast disappearing languages.  In addition to producing resources for communities interested in language and culture preservation, maintenance, and revitalization, language documentation continues to produce data that challenge and improve linguistic theory.  A case in point is a pattern of participant marking, i.e. ways that speakers indicate who does what to whom in a sentence, in the endangered languages of the Tibeto-Burman region (Northeast India).  From current typological studies we expect one of three participant marking patterns and these are based on purely syntactic factors.  From very small languages in and around the Himalayan region we discover that that there is a possible fourth pattern based not on syntax but on information structure and pragmatics – a game changing discovery for syntactic and typological theory.   Endangered language data also provides data on how humans represent and interact with their environment and through this data provide a window into human cognition.  Looking again at Tibeto-Burman, we find languages with complex systems of directional marking which, in the simplest sense, indicate the direction in which an activity is or will be performed.  However, directionals are metaphorically extended to express movement through time and social or psychological space.  Appropriate usage requires knowledge of social conventions and the cultural attribution of relative prestige of locations. Such data requires us to revisit theories of spatial cognition.

Thursday, April 13     
4:00 pm
PAIS 290

Exploring Sleep as a Mediator between Ethnic/Racial Discrimination and Adolescent Academic and Psychosocial Outcomes

Tiffany Yip
Department of Psychology
Fordham University

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology, the James Weldon Johnson Institute, and the Hightower Fund

The negative academic and health effects of ethnic/racial discrimination are robust and pervasive. Taking a biopsychosocial approach, the current study combines actigraphy with a daily diary design to explore sleep duration and quality as an explanatory link between discrimination and outcomes.  In a sample of 189 ethnic/racially diverse 9th grade adolescents, the study first assessed the daily impact of discrimination on next-day academic engagement and mood.  Second, the study explored sleep as a mediating pathway between discrimination and outcomes. This paper contributes to two timely, yet independent, developmental science literatures.  First, the study contributes to a growing literature on how social experiences of discrimination may be embodied psychophysiologically to contribute to ethnic/racial academic and health disparities.  Second, the study contributes to the burgeoning science of sleep and its importance for youth development.  Intersecting these literatures, the study found that on days in which youths reported unfair ethnic/racial treatment, they also spent more minutes awake after falling asleep.  In turn, sleep disturbance was associated with feeling more anxious and less academically engaged the next day.  Together, the data support a temporal mediated pathway wherein discrimination is associated with same-evening sleep disturbance, which is then predictive of next-day outcomes.  The developmental implications of the observed daily-level associations are profound.  Over time, the downstream effects of everyday discrimination may contribute to persistent academic and health disparities.

FALL 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Comparative Decision Making in Non-Human Primates

Sarah Brosnan
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Institute
Georgia State University

Humans routinely confront situations that require coordination between individuals, from mundane activities such as planning where to go for dinner to incredibly complicated activities, such as multi-national agreements. How did this ability arise, and what prevents success in those situations in which it breaks down? To understand how this capability evolved across the primates, my lab uses the methodology of experimental economics. This is an ideal mechanism for the comparative approach as it is a well-developed methodology for distilling complex decision-making in to a series of simple choices, allowing these decisions to be com-pared across species and contexts using identical methodologies. We have investigated coordination in New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, and great apes, including both chimpanzees and humans. We find that there are remarkable continuities of out-come across the primates, including humans, however there are also important differences in how each species reaches these outcomes. For example, while humans and other primates can find the same coordinated outcome, our research indicates that they are using different cognitive mechanisms to do so. Additionally, in many primates, including humans, cooperation breaks down under conditions of inequity. However, only humans and chimpanzees seem to be able to rectify inequity, presumably avoiding this breakdown and thereby maintaining a successful cooperative partnership. This ability is undoubtedly the foundation of the much more complex sense of fairness that evolved uniquely in humans. By carefully considering both the similarities and differences among species, we can better understand how cooperative decision-making emerged in the primates, and how each species relates to the others.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Continuing Significance of Race in American Politics:  Racial Resentment and the Pain of Progress

David C. Wilson
Department of Political Science
University of Delaware

Why does race serve as the most polarizing feature of American politics? Presumably, Americans have a stake in proclaiming America’s greatness, particularly touting pride in democratic governance, protecting civil rights and liberties, and making progress in areas that serve as ugly scars in its history. Yet, research suggests the effects of racial bias now surpass the typical partisan and ideological predispositions that drive political decision making and judgments. This phenomenon is highlighted by public opinion data col-lected over the past 10 years covering Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy and subsequent admin-istrations. As the prototypically racially neutral African American politician, Barack Obama was expected to inhibit the activation of negative racial appraisals and threat. Contrary to such expectations a number of studies show this did not happen, as perceptions of Obama and his policies are linked strongly to negative racial attitudes. But, negative racial attitudes are not limited to Obama, they also continue to have signifi-cant effects on ostensibly non-racial issues like voting rights and even the purity of election process itself. Most surprisingly, some of the strongest effects of racial attitudes are found among Democrats and liber-als. Essentially, Obama’s ascendancy created a space for political discourse about the relevance of, and resentment toward, race in nearly every aspect of American politics. As a result explicit and implicit racial information cues promote ideas and emotions that make racialization both easy and effective. Summarily, scholars, and the public alike, are left with questions about the permanency of racial thinking (and racism) in America.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of African American Studies, Political Science, and Psychology, and the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How Metacognitive States like Tip-of-the-Tongue and Deja Vu Can Be Biasing

Anne Cleary
Department of Psychology
Colorado State University

In my lab, we recently discovered a new type of cognitive bias brought on by the presence of a tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state for a currently inaccessible word. When in a TOT state, participants think it more likely that a currently unretrieva-ble word was presented in a darker, clearer font upon last seeing it, a larger font upon last seeing it, that it is of higher frequency in the language, and that it starts with a more common first letter in the language. This pattern suggests that TOT states bias people to infer that the unretrieved target information has qualities that tend to characterize fluency or accessibility, even when that is not the case. In further studies, we have found that the TOT’s biasing effects also ex-tend to the immediately surrounding circumstances during the TOT as well. For example, people judge celebrity faces as belonging to more ethical people when in a TOT state for the name than when not, and rate their inclination to take an unrelated gamble as being higher when in a TOT state than when not. Other findings from our lab suggest that TOT states bias people toward inferring positive qualities of the unretrieved information: When in TOT states, people infer a greater likelihood that the target is a positively-valenced word, and that it was associated with a higher value on an earlier study list. Taken together, results suggest that TOT states may involve a “warm glow” that extends to any deci-sions that are made during the state. Finally, this type of metacognitive bias is not limited to TOT states. Recent work from our lab suggests that déjà vu states can also be biasing. Participants report a greater feeling of knowing what will happen next as an event unfolds when in a déjà vu state than when not, even though no such predictive ability is ex-hibited. This déjà vu bias may explain the often-reported link between reported déjà vu states and feelings of knowing what will happen next.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Disciplinary Disharmonies: Can There Be a Shared Vision for Global Neuroscience Ethics?

Ilina Singh
Departments of Psychiatry and Philosophy, and Centre for Neuroethics
University of Oxford

In June 2016, a small group of world-leading neuroscientists, ethicists, social scientists and clinical researchers came together with two goals: to initiate a global research consortium in neuroscience ethics; and to come up with a research agenda for that consortium. Were the goals met? Yes and no. In this talk I identify some of the key clashes, the strange alliances, and the isolation tactics that collectively enabled the consortium to establish an identity and a mission, at a cost. I will draw on some recent theories of disciplinarity to understand what happened in the meeting; but I will also suggest that a key problematic, that between ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ , has not been taken sufficiently seriously by those who endeavour to construct multi- and inter-disciplinary research initiatives in neuroscience ethics.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology and Psychology.


Spring 2016 Semester

Wednesday, February 3

Delusion and Spiritual Experience: A Case Study and Consequences

Kenneth (Bill) Fulford 
University of Warwick
Center for Neuroethics, University of Oxford

The widely held belief that the diagnosis of mental disorder is a matter exclusively for value-free science has been much reinforced by recent dramatic advances in the neurosciences. In this lecture I will use a detailed case study of delusion and spiritual experience to indicate to the contrary that values come into the diagnosis of mental disorders directly through the language of the diagnostic criteria adopted in such scientifically–grounded classifications as the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual).  Various competing interpretations of the importance of values in psychiatric diagnosis will be considered. Interpreted through the lens of the Oxford tradition of linguistic-analytic philosophy, however, diagnostic values in psychiatry are seen to reflect the complex and often conflicting values of real people.  This latter interpretation has the direct consequence that there is a need for processes of assessment in psychiatry that are equally values-based as evidence-based. A failure to recognise this in the past has resulted in some of the worst abusive misuses of psychiatric diagnostic concepts. In the final part of the presentation I will outline recent developments in values-based practice in mental health including some of its applications to diagnostic assessment, and in other areas of health care (such as surgery).

Tuesday, February 9

Empathy through/with/for Music       

Jenefer Robinson 
Department of Philosophy
University of Cincinnati

Broadly speaking, empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (Iacoboni). More narrowly, an emotion is usually deemed empathic only when “the agent is aware that it is caused by the perceived, imagined, or inferred plight of another, or it expresses concern for the welfare of another” (Maibom). In the broad sense, the tender reciprocal relationship that develops between mother and infant when the mother sings to the baby and the baby responds is a species of empathy through music. In the narrower sense listeners may empathize with the music itself when they are affected by music via emotional contagion – a kind of low-level empathy – to adopt the musical gestures they experience and thereby share the emotion expressed by the music. If, in addition, it’s possible for music to express the emotions of a persona – the performer, the composer or simply a “character” in the music – then listeners can engage in high-level empathy for the persona, imagining feeling the emotions of the persona that are expressed in the music and coming to share them.

Thursday, February 18                   

Cognitive Aesthetics:  Beauty, the Brain, and Virginia Woolf

Patrick Colm Hogan 
Department of English
University of Connecticut

In this talk, drawn from his book, Beauty and Sublimity: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Literature and the Arts (Cambridge University Press, 2016), Hogan outlines an account of aesthetic response that synthesizes the insights of cognitive neuroscience with those implicit in Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway.  Hogan begins by briefly outlining an explanation of beauty based on human information processing (specifically, pattern isolation and prototype approximation). He goes on to consider complications. These complications include the simple, but highly consequential matter of differentiating judgments of beauty from aesthetic response. They also include the relative neglect of literature in neurologically-based discussions of beauty, which tend to focus on music or visual art. There is in addition the potentially more difficult issue of the relative neglect of emotion, beyond the reward system. Related to this last point, there is the very limited treatment of the sublime in empirical research and associated theoretical reflection. After considering these issues broadly, Hogan turns to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, examining its treatment of beauty and sublimity. The aim of this section is not merely to illuminate Woolf’s novel by reference to neuroscientific research. It is equally, perhaps more fully, to expand our neuroscientifically grounded account of aesthetic response by drawing on Woolf’s novel.

Sponsored by the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence’s University Course Initiative, with support from the CMBC.

Thursday, February 25                   

Homo naledi and the Evolution of Human Behavior

John Hawks 
Department of Anthropology
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Hominin remains were discovered in October, 2013 within the Rising Star cave system, inside the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, South Africa. Lee Berger and the University of the Witwatersrand organized excavations with a skilled team of archaeologists and support of local cavers, which have to date uncovered 1550 hominin skeletal specimens. The hominin remains represent a minimum of 15 individuals of a previously undiscovered hominin species, which we have named Homo naledi. Aside from its subtantially smaller brain, H. naledi is cranially similar to early Homo species such as Homo habilisHomo rudolfensis and early Homo erectus, but its postcranial anatomy presents a mosaic that has never before been observed, including very humanlike feet and lower legs, a primitive australopith-like pelvis and proximal femur, primitive ribcage and shoulder configuration, generally humanlike wrists and hand proportions, combined with very curved fingers and a powerful thumb. The geological age of the fossils is not yet known. The Dinaledi Chamber contains no macrofauna other than the hominin remains, and geological study of the cave system rules out most hypotheses for the deposition of the hominin bone, including predator or scavenger accumulation, catastrophic death, and flood accumulation. Our preferred hypothesis for the hominin assemblage is deliberate deposition by H. naledi itself. This presentation will review Homo naledi from the initial discovery of the fossils to their interpretation and their relevance to understanding the evolution of human behavior.

Tuesday, March 1                            

The Evolutionary Logic of Self-Deception – and Its Implications for Everyday Life

Robert Trivers 
Department of Anthropology
Rutgers University 

Self-deception evolved in the service of deceit, the better to hide it from others. This includes social psychology and immunology of self-deception as well as its interaction with music and humor. Many human disasters--from airplane crashes to stupid and misguided wars--are partly or largely the result of self-deception. The Internet has greatly expanded opportunities for deception and theft, while phone cameras have given the lie to police shootings of innocent, unarmed people. We can fight our own self-deception, but it is not easy.

Sponsored by the Department of Anthropology with support from the Departments of Psychology, Biology, and the CMBC.         

Tuesday, March 15                          

Ockham’s Razor ─ When is the Simpler Theory Better?

Elliott Sober 
Department of Philosophy
University of Wisconsin

Many scientists believe that the search for simple theories is not optional; rather, it is a requirement of the scientific enterprise.  When theories get too complex, scientists reach for Ockham’s razor, the principle of parsimony, to do the trimming.  This principle says that a theory that postulates fewer entities, processes, or causes is better than a theory that postulates more, so long as the simpler theory is compatible with what we observe.  Ockham’s razor presents a puzzle.  It is obvious that simple theories may be beautiful and easy to remember and understand.  The hard problem is to explain why the fact that one theory is simpler than another tells you anything about the way the world is.  In my lecture, I’ll describe two solutions.

Tuesday, March 22                          

The Evolution and Neurobiology of Musical Beat Processing

Aniruddh D. Patel 
Department of Psychology
Tufts University

Music is ancient and universal in human cultures.  In The Descent of Man, Darwin theorized that musical rhythmic processing tapped into ancient and widespread aspects of animal brain function.  While appealing, this idea is being challenged by modern cross-species and neurobiological research.  In this talk I will describe research supporting the hypothesis that musical beat processing has its origin in another rare biological trait shared by humans and just a few other groups of animals (none of which are primates), namely complex vocal learning.  I will also suggest that once the capacity for beat processing arose in our species, it was refined and enhanced by mechanisms of gene-culture coevolution due to the impact of synchronization to a beat on social bonds in early human groups.

Thursday, April 7                          

The Burial Ground:  A Bridge between Language and Culture

Allison Burkette 
Department of Modern Languages
University of Mississippi

This paper will explore the cultural and historical forces that created variation in terms for 'cemetery', including links between language and material culture, using terms found within two Linguistic Atlas Project datasets to demonstrate how colonial influence, cultural changes, and physical locations contribute to language variation. This project has found that the religious and social climates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries linger in the vocabularies of speakers from the 1930s, as northern and southern colonial trends were still influencing regional language use several hundred years later.  Furthermore, for the Linguistic Atlas of New England data, we find that the physical proximity to historic cemeteries has an effect on speakers' use of specific 'cemetery' vocabulary items. 

Computer Simulation of the Linguistic Atlas:  New Suggestions about the Process of Language Change

William A. Kretzschmar, Jr.
Department of English
University of Georgia

The crucial issue for space and time in language and cultural study is modeling The crucial issue for space and time in language and cultural study is modeling diffusion, how characteristics spread spatially over time. The process of diffusion certainly occurs as a result of cultural interaction--to use language as prime example, massive numbers of people talking (and more recently writing) to each other. The new science of "complex systems" shows that order emerges from such systems by means of self-organization: particular variants come to be more or less frequent among different groups of people or types of discourse (the same nonlinear curve has a different order of variants at every scale of analysis), and variant frequency comes to mark identity of the different regional and social groups. Computer simulation is the only practical way to model linguistic diffusion. We have successfully simulated diffusion with a cellular automaton, which uses update rules with respect to the status of its neighboring locations to determine the status (whether a linguistic feature is used or not) at a given location. After substantial experience with the computer simulation, we have observed a number of characteristics that are highly suggestive for how the complex system of speech may operate in actual human populations of speakers, and in this paper I will report on six key findings. Our use of a simple cellular automaton in a successful simulation suggests how we might better understand the survey and other data we have already collected, and also suggests how we might do a better job of collecting additional empirical data about language in future.

Sponsored by the Program in Linguistics with support from the CMBC.

FALL 2015

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cultural Sociology and Moral Psychology

Steve Vaisey
Department of Sociology
Duke University

In recent years, cultural sociologists have grown increasingly interested in psychology and some influential psychologists (e.g., Oishi et al 2009; Haidt 2012) have argued for closer connections to sociological theory and research. In this talk, I will outline some past and current work in which I have attempted to create bridges between sociology and psychology. I will also consider some concrete ways to improve interdisciplinary research on morality.

Sponsored by the Coalition of Graduate Sociologists (COGS) with support from the Department of Sociology and the CMBC.

Thursday, September 24, 2015   

Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms of Persistence

Joe Kable 
Department of Psychology
University of Pennsylvania

People often choose larger future rewards over smaller immediate ones, but then abandon that choice before the future reward arrives. Examples include starting a diet but then not sticking to it, quitting smoking but then relapsing, and most new year's resolutions. Psychologists often explain such behavior by reference to fundamental limitations in human cognitive systems, such as limited willpower or self-control. I will argue for an alternative explanation, in which the failure to persist toward delayed outcomes arises from a rational reevaluation process regarding temporally uncertain delayed rewards. I will talk about our work showing the critical role of uncertainty in persistence towards future outcomes and examining how different forms of uncertainty are encoded in the brain and affect other neural representations during voluntary persistence.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015             

Perceiving Spanish and English in Miami: Discourse, Representation, & Implicit Bias

Phillip Carter 
Department of Linguistics
Florida International University

In 1993, Time magazine dubbed Miami “the Capital of Latin America.” At the time, Miami’s Hispanic / Latino population was at roughly 50% and was overwhelmingly Cuban-origin. In the ensuing two decades, Miami’s Hispanic / Latino population has continued to grow, reaching 65% in Miami-Dade County and 78% in the City of Miami in 2010. At the same time, the Cuban-origin share has fallen to below 50%. Both of these developments owe to the economic and political crises in Latin America in the 1990s and 2000s that brought unprecedented numbers of Colombians, Venezuelans, Peruvians, Dominicans, and other Spanish-speaking groups to South Florida. As a result of the socio-demographic changes, Miami is now both the most Latino large city in the U.S. (79%) and the most foreign-born (65%). It is also most likely to be the most bilingual large city in North America and the most dialectally-diverse Spanish speaking city in the world. The richness of the sociolinguistic landscape raises important questions about the ways in which Miami’s linguistic diversity is mentally represented and enacted in social interaction. How are Spanish and English perceived in terms of sociocultural prestige? Which language is thought to be most valuable for success in Miami’s boom-and-bust economy? Do Latinos and non-Latinos differ in their perceptions of English and Spanish? Do Miami residents exhibit implicit biases toward Spanish or English? If so, how do these biases vary according to social categories, such as ethnicity? Do biases co-vary with length of residency in Miami? And does living in Miami strengthen or diminish an individual’s automatic preferences for English or Spanish? In this talk, I present the findings of two ongoing perceptual studies conducted with over 500 residents of Miami-Dade County. The first is a matched guise experiment (Lambert et al. 1956) designed to test perceptions of English and Spanish across a range of sociocultural and socioeconomic factors, including warmth and competence personality traits. The second is an implicit association test (IAT, Greenwald, McGhee, and Schwartz, 1998) designed to test biases to textual and oral stimuli in Spanish and English. Findings from both studies are considered in light of competing national narratives about Spanish in the United States: Spanish-as-threat (Chavez 2008) and Spanish-as-commodity (Dávila 2008). 

Sponsored by the CMBC, the J. Gordon Stipe Fund of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Departments of German Studies, French and Italian Studies, Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures (REALC), Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies (MESAS), the Emory College Language Center (ECLC), and the Program in Linguistics.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015           

Why Do We Perform Rituals?

Dimitris Xygalatas 
Department of Anthropology
University of Connecticut

Ritual is a puzzling aspect of behavior, as it involves obvious expenditures of effort, energy and resources without equally obvious payoffs. Evolutionary theorists have long proposed that such costly behaviors would not have survived throughout human history unless they conveyed certain benefits to their practitioners. But what might those benefits be, and how can they be operationalised and measured? This talk will present a series of studies that combined laboratory and field methods to explore the puzzle of ritualized behavior among humans.

Thursday, October 22, 2015         

Speech Is Special and Language Is Structured

David Poeppel
Max Planck Institute, Frankfurt Main
Department of Psychology and Neural Science
New York University

I discuss two new studies that focus on general questions about the cognitive science and neural implementation of speech and language. I come to (currently) unpopular conclusions about both domains. Based on a first set of experiments, using fMRI and exploiting the temporal statistics of speech, I argue for the existence of a speech-specific processing stage that implicates a particular neuronal substrate that has the appropriate sensitivity and selectivity for speech (Overath et al. 2015). Based on a second set of experiments, using MEG, I show how temporal encoding can form the basis for more abstract, structural processing. The results demonstrate that, during listening to connected speech, cortical activity of different time scales is entrained concurrently to track the time course of linguistic structures at different hierarchical levels. Critically, entrainment to hierarchical linguistic structures is dissociated from the neural encoding of acoustic cues and from processing the predictability of incoming words. These results demonstrate syntax-driven, internal construction of hierarchical linguistic structure via entrainment of hierarchical cortical dynamics (Ding et al. 2015). The conclusions I reach — that speech is special and language syntactic-structure-driven — provide new neurobiological provocations to the prevailing view that speech perception is ‘mere' hearing and that language comprehension is ‘mere' statistics.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015              

Bilingualism: Consequences for Mind and Brain

Ellen Bialystok
Department of Psychology
York University, Toronto

A growing body of research points to a significant effect of bilingualism on cognitive outcomes across the lifespan. The main finding is evidence for the enhancement of executive control at all stages in the lifespan, with the most dramatic results being maintained cognitive performance in elderly adults and protection against the onset of dementia. These results shed new light on the question of how cognitive and linguistic systems interact in the mind and brain. I will review evidence from both behavioral and imaging studies and propose a framework for understanding the mechanism that could lead to the reported consequences of bilingualism and the limitation or absence of these effects under some conditions.

Sponsored by the CMBC with additional support from the Departments of Psychology, German Studies, French and Italian Studies, Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures (REALC), Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies (MESAS), the Emory College Language Center (ECLC), the Program in Linguistics, and the Hightower Fund.

Thursday, November 19, 2015    

Self, Schizophrenia, and the Unwholly Spirit: A Pathway to Ecumenical Naturalism

George Graham 
Department of Philosophy and Neuroscience Institute
Georgia State University

Normal self-consciousness typically includes the compelling sense that my own experiences belong to me – one person, one whole and unified center of consciousness.  That common and compelling feature of wholeness and distinctness often is lost or broken in certain experiences in schizophrenia as well as in mystical or religious experiences. The experience of self-consciousness or self-awareness in schizophrenia often is constituted by dramatic breakdowns in the experience of the self or “I”.  Many so-called mystical or religious experiences include similar breakdowns.

Such similarities have long been recognized in the literatures on mental illness and mysticism.  The question is, ‘What to do about them?’  It would be a mistake to equate mysticism with psychosis but helpful to examine whether the two sorts of experiences are similar in their cognitive foundations.  Ecumenical Naturalism (EN) claims that experiences of self in schizophrenia and in mysticism share some of the same cognitive foundations.  Various religious social contexts and practices elicit, engage and manipulate those psychological systems in ways that yield thoughts and experiences that are quite similar to those associated with mental disorders like schizophrenia.  EN aims to identify those foundations and to compare and contrast the differences in consequences between relevant illnesses and mystical experiences (when not signs of illness). My talk will describe EN, one of its essential assumptions, which is derived from some recent work in the cognitive science of religion, and illustrate its method. The relevant assumption is that religious experiences are sustained by a whole variety of cognitive systems, which are part of our regular psychological equipment, mystical experiences or no mystical experiences, schizophrenia or no schizophrenia.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Myths and Misunderstandings about Dual Language Acquisition in Young Learners

Fred Genesee 
Department of Psychology
McGill University, Montreal

There has been growing interest in children who learn language in diverse contexts and under diverse circumstances. In particular, dual language acquisition has become the focus of much research attention, arguably as a reflection of the growing awareness that dual language learning is common in children.  A deeper understanding of dual language learning under different circumstances is important to ensure the formulation of theories of language learning that encompass all language learners and to provide critical information for clinical and other practical decisions that touch the lives of all language learners. This talk will review research findings on dual language learning in both school and non-school settings, among simultaneous and sequential bilinguals, and in typically-developing learners and those with an impaired capacity for language learning. Key findings with respect to common myths and misunderstandings that surround dual language acquisition in young learners will be reviewed and discussed and their implications for both theoretical and practical matters will be considered.  

Sponsored by the CMBC with additional support from the Departments of German Studies, French and Italian Studies, Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures (REALC), Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies (MESAS), the Emory College Language Center (ECLC), the Program in Linguistics, and the Hightower Fund.


Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Look Again:  Anamorphic Projection and Social Theory in Shakespeare

Bradd Shore
Department of Anthropology 
Emory University

Few would contest the claim that Shakespeare was a great poet and playwright. Less indisputable, perhaps, is the notion that he was also a great social theorist. By this, I'm not referring to theory in the weak sense of occasional philosophically nuanced comments by characters, or speeches with philosophical overtones. I mean that Shakespeare was a social theorist in the strong sense that, in addition to being powerful stories, his plays often are extended reflections on many of the classic issues of social thought. If I'm right about this, it raises an important question about literary technique and voice. Normally the analytical voice of the theorist is very different and in some sense in tension with the narrative voice of the dramatist or novelist. Reconciling the requirements of effective theoretical analysis and affecting dramatic narrative is a major challenge. This talk, adapted from my upcoming book on Shakespeare and social theory, deals with one important way in which Shakespeare accomplished this literary pas de deux by adapting anamorphic projection, a visual technique perfected by Renaissance painters, to literary narrative. Anamorphosis developed in relation to the Renaissance science of optics and its far-reaching effects on perspective.  While anamorphic projection has been widely appreciated in the history of painting, its use as a holographic literary technique is less well-known, and its use by Shakespeare as a way of expanding the semantic range of his plays is virtually unappreciated.

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

Linguistic Experience and Speech-in-Noise Recognition 

Ann Bradlow
Department of Linguistics
Northwestern University

The language(s) that we know shape the way we process and represent the speech that we hear.  Since real-world speech recognition almost always takes place in conditions that involve some sort of background noise, we can ask whether the influence of linguistic knowledge and experience on speech processing extends to the particular challenges posed by speech-in-noise recognition, specifically the perceptual separation of speech from background noise (Experiment Series 1) and the cognitive representation of speech and concurrent background noise (Experiment Series 2).  In Experiment Series 1, listeners were asked to recognize English sentences embedded in a background of competing speech that was either English (matched-language, English-in-English recognition) or another language (mismatched-language, e.g. English-in-Mandarin recognition).  Listeners were either native or non-native listeners of the target language (usually, English), and were either familiar or unfamiliar with the language of the to-be-ignored, background speech (English, Mandarin, Dutch, or Croatian).  This series of experiments demonstrated that matched-language speech-in-speech recognition is substantially harder than mismatched-language speech-in-speech recognition.  Moreover, the magnitude of the mismatched-language benefit was modulated by long-term linguistic experience (specifically, listener familiarity with the background language), as well as by short-term adaptation to a consistent background language within a test session.  Thus, we conclude that speech recognition in conditions that involve competing background speech engages higher-level, experience-dependent, language-specific knowledge in addition to general lower-level, signal-dependent processes of auditory stream segregation.  Experiment Series 2 then investigated perceptual classification and encoding in memory of spoken words and concurrently presented background noise.  Converging evidence from eye-tracking, speeded classification, and continuous recognition memory paradigms strongly suggests parallel (rather than strictly sequential) processes of stream segregation and word identification, as well as integrated (rather than segregated) cognitive representations of speech presented in background noise.  Taken together, this research is consistent with models of speech processing and representation that allow interactions between long-term, experience-dependent linguistic knowledge and instance-specific, environment-dependent sources of speech signal variability at multiple levels, ranging from relatively early/low levels of selective attention to relatively late/high levels of lexical encoding and retrieval. 

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

War and Peace and Social Identity

Mark Moffett
Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History
Visiting Scholar, Department of Human Evolution, Harvard University

An essential feature of any society is the capacity of its members to distinguish one another from outsiders and reject outsiders on that basis. Some social insects and humans are able to form huge societies because their membership is anonymous—members aren’t required to distinguish all the other members as individuals for the society to remain unified. Societies are instead bonded by shared identity cues and signals, such as society-specific odors in ants and learned social labels in humans. I contrast this with societies of nonhuman vertebrates, which achieve a maximum of 200 members by the necessity that each member recalls every other member individually. The capacity to form an anonymous society is a complex trait that I will show could have arisen in our ancestors well before language. While there has been a perennial focus on the cooperative networks that emerge inside each society, identification with a clearly defined group of members, and not coop­eration or kinship as many experts assert, is the most fundamental defining characteristic of societies in humans and other animals. I will discuss how this identification bears on aggression in humans and other animals.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Why “Religion” Cannot Be Adaptive:  Understanding the Cognitive and Historical Varieties of Religious Representations 

Pascal Boyer
Henry Luce Professor of Individual and Collective Memory
College of Arts and Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

Why is there some “religious stuff” in all human societies? A tempting answer is that religions are somehow grounded in evolved properties of human minds. Recently, some have even suggested that religion could have been selected for ensuring large-scale cooperation and prosocial behavior. Considering the empirical evidence leads to a more sober understanding of the evolutionary processes underpinning the emergence and spread of religious concepts and norms. The term “religion” misleadingly lumps together three very different kinds of social-cultural processes, unlikely to have spread in the same contexts. I propose to model the diffusion of religious concepts in terms of cultural epidemics based on universal cognitive dispositions, showing how some (not all) religious concepts can serve as recruitment devices in building coalitions.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

Building Brains from Bottom to Top 

Chris Eliasmith
Department of Philosophy
University of Waterloo

There has recently been an international surge of interest in building large brain models.  The European Union's Human Brain Project (HBP) has received 1 billion euros worth of funding, and President Obama announced the Brain Initiative along with a similar level of funding. However the large scale models affiliated with both projects do not demonstrate how their generated complex neural activity relates to observable behaviour -- arguably the central challenge for neuroscience. I will present our recent work on large-scale brain modeling that is focussed on both biological realism and reproducing human behaviour.  I will demonstrate how the model relates to both low-level neural data and high-level behavioural data. Finally, I will discuss applications of this research to understanding both the biological basis of cognition and building more advanced robots.  

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Feeling the Heat... What is Ecopsychoanalysis? Psychoanalysis and Climate Change in the Three Ecologies

Joseph Dodds
University of New York in Prague;
Charles University’s CIEE Study Center;
Anglo-American University

What role can psychoanalysis play in understanding the ecological crisis and climate change? In our era of anxiety, denial, paranoia, apathy, guilt, rage, terror and despair in the face of climate change, there is an urgent need for a psychoanalytic approach to ecology, and an ecological approach to psychoanalysis. Drawing on the presenter’s book Psychoanalysis and Ecology at the Edge of Chaos (Dodds 2011) an ecopsychoanalytic approach suggests the need to move our psychoanalytic perspective beyond the confines of the family and even wider social system, to include relations with the other than human world, a move begun by Searles (1960, 1972). In contrast to the schizoid fragmented space of the university, divided into every narrower sub-fields, climate change forces us to think transversally, about a world of unpredictable, multiple-level, highly complex, nonlinear interlocking systems. How does a phantasy impact on an ecosystem, and vice versa? There is a need for a way of thinking able to integrate the disparate strands of analysis, related to what the psychoanalyst Bion (1984) calls the work of ‘linking’, connected with the alpha-function and the dreamwork. The philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari (2003) combined with the sciences of complexity and chaos can build on psychoanalytic perspectives to offer a new framework, or rather a 'meshwork' (DeLanda 2006), able to integrate Guattari's (2000) 'three ecologies' of mind, nature and society.

Ecopsychoanalysis is a new transdisciplinary approach to thinking about the relationship between psychoanalysis, ecology, the ‘natural’, and the problem of climate change. It draws on a range of fields including psychoanalysis, psychology, ecology, philosophy, science, complexity theory, aesthetics and the humanities. This paper seeks to introduce the main coordinates of this perspective, with the aim of helping to open up a psychoanalysis of ecology, and an ecological approach to mind, phantasy and the dynamics of the therapeutic process. How can we, as individuals, societies and as a species, bear the anxiety involved with attempting to ask the question, how are we to survive?

Sponsored by the Psychoanalytic Studies Program with additional support from the CMBC.

FALL 2014

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 

I’m Glad ‘My Brain Made Me Do It’:  Free Will as a Neuropsychological Success Story

Eddy Nahmias
Department of Philosophy, and Neuroscience Institute 
Georgia State University

‘Willusionists’ argue that science is discovering that free will is an illusion. Their arguments take a variety of forms, but they often suggest that if the brain is responsible for our actions, then we are not.  And they predict that ordinary people share this view.  I will discuss some evidence that most people do not think that free will or responsibility conflict with the possibility that our decisions could be perfectly predicted based on earlier brain activity.  I will consider why this possibility might appear problematic but why it shouldn’t.  Once we define free will properly, we see that neuroscience and psychology can help to explain how it works, rather than explain it away.  Human free will is allowed by a remarkable assembly of neuropsychological capacities, including imagination, control of attention, valuing, and ‘self-habituation’.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Using Developmental Neurogenetics to Understand Psychopathology:  Examples from Youth Antisocial Behavior

Luke Hyde
Department of Psychology
University of Michigan

The development of psychopathology occurs through the complex interplay of genes, experience, and the brain.  In this talk, I will describe a developmental neurogenetics approach to understanding the development of psychopathology.  In this approach, individual variability in genetic background is linked to neural function and subsequent risk and resilience through interactions with the environment. Guided by a developmental psychopathology framework, I will give examples of approaches to link genes, brain, behavior, and experience, with a particular emphasis on studies from my lab aimed at understanding the development of antisocial behavior (e.g., aggression, theft, and violation of serious rules). These examples highlight the role of serotonin genes on amygdala reactivity, the role of amygdala reactivity in antisocial behavior, and the importance of identifying subtypes of antisocial behavior such as callous-unemotional traits and psychopathy that may have different etiologies.

Luke W. Hyde, PhD, director of the Michigan Neurogenetics and Developmental Psychopathology Laboratory (MiND Lab), is an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of Michigan, with additional affiliations at the Center for Human Growth and Development and the Institute for Social Research.  He received a BA from Williams College and a PhD in clinical and developmental Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh with an additional concentration in cognitive neuroscience from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.  Dr. Hyde also completed a clinical psychology residency from the Western Psychiatry Institute and Clinics of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. His research interests focus on the development of risk and resilience in youth and families facing multiple stressors using a wide range of approaches including longitudinal studies, functional neuroimaging, and molecular genetics to explore the interaction of experience and biology across development.  His recent research has focused on factors involved in the development of psychopathology, particularly externalizing and antisocial behaviors in youth with a specific interest in early empathy deficits and later psychopathy. 

Monday, September 29th, 2014

The Seven Sins of Memory:  An Update 

Daniel Schacter
Department of Psychology
Harvard University

Over a decade ago, I proposed that memory errors can b e classified into seven fundamental categories or "sins": transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. During the past decade, much has been learned about each of the seven sins, especially as a result of research that has combined the methods of psychology and neuroscience. This presentation will provide an update on our current understanding of the seven sins, with a focus on the sins of absent-mindedness (failures of attention that result in memory errors) and misattribution (when information is mistakenly assigned to the wrong source, resulting in memory distrotions such as false recognition). I will discuss recent research on absent-mindedness that has examined the role of mind wandering in memory for lectures, and will present evidence indicating that interpolated testing can counter such absent-minded lapses. I will also discuss recent research that has clarified both cognitive and neural aspects of misattribution, and consider evidence for the idea that misattribution and other memory sins can be conceived of as byproducts of otherwise adaptive features of memory.

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Male and Female Brains: A Distinction that Makes a Difference

Brad Cooke
Neuroscience Institute
Georgia State University

We have known for more than forty years that the brains of humans and other animals are sexually dimorphic. That is, there are reliable differences in the average size, shape, and connectivity of male and female brains. While the existence of neural sex differences is beyond dispute, their significance is controversial. What do neural sex differences mean for social norms, mental health, and the perennial argument about “nature vs. nurture”?

This talk will focus on the neuroscience of sex differences. The speaker will describe how sex differences in the brain are typically studied and how the factors that influence their development have been identified. Gonadal hormones such as testosterone and estrogen play a major role in establishing sex differences. Yet at the same time, sex-typical experiences are also important in the development of male and female brains. That is, both hormones and hormone-driven experience seem to be necessary for the normal development and expression of sex-typical brains and behaviors.

Many complex psychiatric conditions, such as drug abuse, anxiety, and depression, vary by sex in terms of their prevalence, age-of-onset, and severity. Thus, while sex differences are intrinsically interesting, they may also provide clues about the origins of mental illness and potential treatments. The final part of the talk will focus on Dr. Cooke’s research at Georgia State University in which he and his students have sought to identify factors that influence the sex-specific prevalence of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. He will describe their efforts to develop a model of adverse early experience and its impact on anxiety- and depression-like behaviors in the laboratory rat. Finally, and if time permits, Dr. Cooke will present some exciting new data concerning his lab's use of a novel brain - computer interface to study sex differences at the neural network level. 

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Neuroanthropology and the Biocultural Approach: Understanding Human Brain Variation in the Wild

Daniel Lende
Department of Anthropology
University of South Florida 

We now recognize that our brains are more plastic than once imagined.  Research in neurobiology has shown that how our brains function is shaped by reciprocal influences between genetics, development, behavior, culture, and environment.  However, much of this research has been done in laboratory and clinical settings, without concurrent examination of how brains vary in the wild.  This talk will outline the field of neuroanthropology using prominent examples including addiction and balance, and then reflect on how this synergy of neuroscience and anthropology emerged out of the biocultural approach pioneered at Emory.


Friday, January 31      
The Represented Face in Film: A Cognitive Cultural Approach

Carl Plantinga 
Department of Communication Arts and Sciences 
Calvin College

The represented face is so ubiquitous and important to narrative film that it deserves separate consideration. In this talk I define and defend what I call a “cognitive cultural” approach to film theory and illustrate its usefulness with an analysis of some key functions of facial representation in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).  I begin by arguing that biology and psychology have much to offer film studies, using as an example Steven J. Gould’s “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse.” I go on to summarize the most important research into the uses of the face in narrative film. My analysis of The Silence of the Lambs, finally, is meant to show that cognitive cultural studies of film, by exploring the interface between mind, film, and culture, not only helps us understand the film medium generally, but but also particular films in their broad social and historical context.

Additional funding provided by the Hightower Fund.

Tuesday, February 18

Relationships between Language and Thought

Lera Boroditsky 
Department of Cognitive Science
University of California, San Diego  

How do the languages we speak shape the ways we think? Do speakers of different languages think differently? Does learning new languages change the way you think? Do bilinguals think differently when speaking different languages? Does language shape our thinking only when we’re speaking or does it shape our attentional and cognitive patterns more broadly? In this talk, I will describe several lines of research looking at cross-linguistic differences in thought. The studies investigate how languages help construct our representations of the world at many stages, yielding predictably different patterns of thought in speakers of different languages.

Sponsored by the Emory College Language Center with additional support from the Departmenst of German Studies and Psychology, the Program in Linguistics, and the CMBC.

Thursday, February 20        

Poetic Potential in Autism: Neurodiversity's Boon       

Ralph Savarese 
Department of English
Grinnell College

Donna Williams refers to autistics as “sensing creatures” and to neurotypicals as “interpretive” ones. Recent neuroscientific research appears to confirm this rough distinction. When performing higher-level cognitive tasks, the former evince more activity in posterior regions of the brain and less activity in the frontal cortex than the latter. According to the authors of a recent meta-analysis, “a stronger engagement of sensory processing mechanisms…may facilitate an atypically prominent role for perceptual mechanisms in supporting cognition.” Autistics, in other words, may have more access to the “pre-categorical”—to the stuff of speech sounds or specific visual images. If we conceive of poetry as paradoxically using words to return us to a more immediate engagement with experience, then the notion of poetic potential in autism seems anything but absurd. What is a poem, after all, but patterned sound whose embodied pleasures exceed that sound’s symbolic or representative function? Poetry may even help to lure autistics into semantic understanding (and neurotypicals back into the perceptual). Critiquing a number of stubborn clichés about autism and embracing the concept of neurodiversity, I present the work of Tito Mukhopadhyay, a man whom the medical community would describe as “severely autistic” and whom I have been mentoring for the past five years. 

The author of Reasonable People, which Newsweek called “a real life love story and an urgent manifesto for the rights of people with neurological disabilities” and the co-editor of “Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity,” a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly, Ralph James Savarese can be seen in the award-winning documentaryLoving Lampposts: Living Autistic and in a forthcoming documentary about his son, DJ, Oberlin College’s first nonspeaking student with autism. He spent the academic year 2012/2013 as a neurohumanities fellow at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences. He teaches at Grinnell College.

Sponsored by the CMBC with additional support from the Disability Studies Initiative and the Hightower Fund.

Monday, February 24th                

Network Architecture of the Human Connectome: Mapping Structural and Functional Connectivity

Olaf Sporns 
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Indiana University

Recent advances in network science have greatly increased our understanding of the structure and function of many networked systems, ranging from transportation networks, to social networks, the internet, ecosystems, and biochemical and gene transcription pathways.  Network approaches are also increasingly applied to the brain, at several levels of scale from cells to entire nervous systems. Early studies in this emerging field of brain connectomics have focused on mapping brain network topology and identifying some of its characteristic features, including small world attributes, modularity and hubs. More recently, the emphasis has shifted towards linking brain network topology to brain dynamics, the patterns of functional interactions that emerge from spontaneous and evoked neuronal activity.  I will give an overview of recent work characterizing the structure of complex brain networks, with particular emphasis on studies demonstrating how the network topology of the connectome constrains and shapes its capacity to process and integrate information.

Wednesday, March 19th

Mental Time Travel in Rats: Decoding Neural Representations during Decision-Making Processes

David Redish 
Department of Neuroscience
University of Minnesota 

It has been difficult to access specific cognitive processes in non-human animals.   However, by being computationally specific about what those cognitive processes are, we can identify specific computational processes that address cognitive issues.   I will show that it is possible to identify "Mental Time Travel" in rats as times when specific neural structures represent other places and other times.   We will use these computational analyses of large ensemble neural data to show hippocampal and ventral striatal processes reflecting deliberation and orbitofrontal processes reflecting regret.

Monday, March 24th      

A Common Goal: Hans Asperger, Autism, and Child Euthanasia in the Third Reich 

Edith Sheffer 
Department of History
Stanford University

To understand autism today, this talk starts in the past, in Nazi Vienna. The current paradigm of the autism spectrum rests largely upon Hans Asperger’s definition of it between 1938 and 1944. Why did Asperger begin to identify these children during the Third Reich? He introduced the autism diagnosis just months after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. How did research on the mind change after the purge of prominent Jewish and socialist psychoanalysts in Vienna? To what extent did this history shape the diagnosis?

Following Asperger—a young psychiatrist in the second-largest city in the Third Reich—reveals how his idea of autism emerged from his involvement in the Nazi state. For Asperger, autism was the psychological opposite of Nazism, a malady of isolation and “incapacity for community” in a society increasingly enthralled with the power of the collective. He believed some with “special abilities” could be taught to fit in; but he deemed others “uneducable” and participated in the Nazi euthanasia program that murdered disabled children, transferring dozens to Vienna’s killing center at Spiegelgrund. This talk explores how one man’s vision at this extraordinary time continues to define, over 70 years later, the minds of millions.

Dr. Sheffer received her PhD from University of California at Berkely where she worked with the late Gerald D. Feldman. Her award-winning first book, Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain (OUP, 2011), challenges the conventional history of the Iron Curtain.  It suggests that the physical barrier between East and West Germany was not simply imposed by Cold War superpowers, but was an outgrowth of anxious postwar society on both sides.  Her current project, Inventing Autism under Nazism: The Surveillance of Emotion and Child Euthanasia in the Third Reich, also examines the global consequences of everyday actions.  This work investigates Hans Asperger’s creation of the autism diagnosis in Vienna from 1938 through the Second World War and situates it within the context of Nazi efforts to define the national community and the murder of disabled children.  A related project through Stanford's Spatial History Lab, "Forming Selves: The Creation of Child Psychiatry from Red Vienna to the Third Reich and Abroad," maps the transnational development of child psychiatry as a discipline, tracing linkages among its pioneers in Vienna in the 1930s through their emigration from the Third Reich and establishment of different practices in the 1940s in England and the United States.  For more information about Dr. Sheffer’s work, please visit her website.

Sponsored by the Department of History and the Institute for Liberal Arts, with co-sponsorship from the  Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, the Disability Studies Initiative, the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, and the Hightower FundHeld in conjunction with the Atlanta Science Festival.

Tuesday, March 25th

Social Regulation of Human Gene Expression

Steve Cole
Geffen School of Medicine
University of California at Los Angeles

Relationships between genes and social behavior have historically been viewed as a one-way street, with genes in control.  Recent analyses have challenged this view by discovering broad alterations in the expression of human genes as a function of differing socio-environmental conditions.  My talk summarizes the developing field of social genomics, and its efforts to identify the types of genes subject to social regulation, the biological signaling pathways mediating those effects, and the genetic polymorphisms that moderate socio-environmental influences on human gene expression.  This approach provides a concrete molecular perspective on how external social conditions interact with our genes to shape the functional characteristics of our bodies, and alter our future biological and behavioral responses based on our personal transcriptional histories.  

Sponsored by the CMBC wtih co-sponsorship from the QuanTM Institute.   Held in conjunction with the Atlanta Science Festival.

Wednesday, April 9th

Using Analogy to Discover the Meaning of Images

Melanie Mitchell
Department of Computer Science
Portland State University
Santa Fe Institute

Enabling computers to understand images remains one of the hardest open problems in artificial intelligence. No machine vision system comes close to matching human ability at identifying the contents of images or visual scenes or at recognizing similarity between different scenes, even though such abilities pervade human cognition. In this talk I will describe research---currently in early stages---on bridging the gap between low-level perception and higher-level image understanding by integrating a cognitive model of pattern recognition and analogy-making with a neural model of the visual cortex.

Sponsored by the CMBC and the QuanTM Institute.

Monday, April 28th

Patterns of Minds: Decoding Features of Theory of Mind Using MVPA

Rebecca Saxe 
Department of Cognitive Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sponsored by the Department of Psychology with CMBC co-sponsorship. 

FALL 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Research on Experience: A Critique of Subjectivity in Qualitative Methods

John Paley, PhD
School of Nursing, Midwifery, and Health
University of Stirling, Scotland

There are numerous activities that might justify the description ‘doing research on experience’. For example: the psychology of perception; studies of the events and circumstances in which people find themselves; a philosophical investigation of ‘inner’ consciousness and introspection; the evaluation of experiential learning; or an exploration of ‘subjective experience’, typical of some forms of qualitative research. This catalogue in itself suggests an ambiguity in the idea of ‘experience’, and findings in linguistics seem to confirm this. In particular, Wierzbicka has observed that there is no direct equivalent of the English word ‘experience’ in any other European language, largely because it straddles senses which other languages keep lexically distinct. 

In this lecture, I will be interested in qualitative studies of experience, which are prevalent in a number of disciplines. Drawing on social psychology, linguistics, and philosophy, I will argue that the concept of ‘subjective experience’ implicitly adopted in most (though not all) approaches to qualitative methods presupposes a view of subjectivity which has little empirical support, and that it survives as a research topic because it is confused with other senses which the idiosyncratic English word ‘experience’ lumps together. I will also suggest that (a) in any discipline, research on experience should distinguish between the different senses of ‘experience’, and specify more carefully what is being studied; (b) researchers should be far more sceptical about the interview respondent’s ability to retrieve ‘subjective experience’ since, arguably, there is no such thing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Methodology for Rhetography and Visual Exegesis of the Gospel of John

L. Gregory Bloomquist, PhD
St. Paul University
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Bloomquist’s lecture will feature application of various aspects of cognitive science about mind, brain, and visualization to textual interpretation. In particular, his approach features aspects of the work of Daniel Kahneman in Attention and Effort (1973); Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), and Kahneman's work with Amos Tversky in Judgment Under Uncertainty (1982) and Choices, Values, and Frames (2000). Bloomquist's Monday morning lecture-colloquy is a theoretical companion piece to his Mellon Sawyer Seminar paper on Monday, Sep 16, 4-6 pm entitled "Eyes Wide Open, Seeing Nothing: The Challenge of the Gospel of John's Non-Vsualizable Texture for Readings Using Visual Texture," which is online at:         

Part of the Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar Program "Visual Exegesis: Images as Instruments of Scriptural Interpretation and Hermeneutics." Sponsored by the Department of Religion with CMBC co-sponsorship.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Feeling Beauty: The Sister Arts and the Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience

Gabrielle Starr, PhD
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Department of English
New York University

Why do we unite such different kinds of objects as music, literature and painting together under the rubric of art? The tradition of the sister arts since Plato has been built on such connections, but perhaps it ought to seem strange that we associate objects and events that appeal to us so differently, through different senses and in different forms. Understanding aesthetics depends on our being able to comprehend why we do so, why a painting by Van Gogh, a poem by Keats, and a fugue by Bach are moving in similar ways. As I explore what makes this is possible (the neuroscience of emotion and reward, the functioning of imagery, and the operations of the default mode network, I arrive at an answer to my second question, which is what kind of knowledge do aesthetic pleasures bring? Ultimately, I argue that aesthetics offers a model for understanding how the brain responds to unpredictable rewards, and how novelty helps drive our mental economies.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Visual Interpretation: Blending Rhetorical Arts in Colossians 2:11 - 3:4

Roy R. Jeal, PhD
Booth University College
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Dr. Jeal’s lecture will feature the relation of insights from Aristotle and Ezra Pound to modern cognitive theory about visualization in the mind and brain in the context of reading or hearing texts. There is special influence from Margaret Visser’s The Geometry of Love: Space, Time, Mystery, and Meaning in an Ordinary Church (2000) in tandem with insights from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) as he interprets the visual nature of “walking in Christ,” attempts by people to “capture the Colossians,” being “full of deity bodily,” being “circumcised by burial and resurrection,” and “standing against the shadow” in Paul’s letter to the Colossians 2:6–3:4 in the New Testament.  

Part of the Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar Program "Visual Exegesis: Images as Instruments of Scriptural Interpretation and Hermeneutics." Sponsored by the Department of Religion with CMBC co-sponsorship.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Relaxation vs. Arousal: A Comparison of the Neurophysiological Responses between Theravada and Vajrayana Meditative Practices

Maria Kozhevnikov, PhD
Department of Radiology
Harvard University School of Medicine

Based on evidence of parasympathetic activation, early research defined meditation as a relaxation response.  Later research categorized meditations as either involving focused or distributed attentional systems.  Neither of these hypotheses received strong empirical support, and most of the studies investigated Theravada style meditative practices, while Tibetan Vajrayana practices remained largely ignored. We compared the electrophysiological (EEG) and Electrocardiographic (EKG) responses generated during meditations that are thought to utilize either focused or distributed attention, from both Theravada and Vajrayana traditions.  Both focused (Shamatha) and distributed (Vipassana) attention meditations of the Theravada tradition produced enhanced parasympathetic activation and reduced alpha power relative to rest, indicative of a relaxation response. In contrast, both focused (Deity) and distributed (Rigpa) of the Vajrayana tradition produced sympathetic activation, indicative of physiological arousal.  In conclusion, consistently with Tibetan texts which decribe Shamatha and Vipassana techniques as calming and relaxing the mind, and Vajrayana technqiues as requiring alertness and wakefulness, we show that Theravada and Vajrayana meditations are based on different neurophysiological mechanisms. Hence, it may be more appropriate to categorize meditations in terms of relaxation VS alertness, whereas classification methods that rely on the focused VS distributed attention dichotomy may need to be reexamined.

Sponsored by the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies with CMBC co-sponsorship.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What Can the Art of the Neuroscientist Contribute to the Science of the Art Historian?

John Onians, PhD
School of World Art Studies
University of East Anglia, Norwich, England

The relation between science and the humanities has always been fruitful, but today it is tense. This is particularly true in the case of art history. In recent decades neuroscientists have used the arts of skillful experiment design and the intelligent interpretation of scientific images to increase our understanding of the brain. Now art historians can use that new understanding of the brain to provide new and more scientific explanations of the many variations in the making of, and the response to, art worldwide.   However, not all art historians approve of this development.   The acceptance of new findings will depend on the historian proceedings with the caution as well as the courage of the scientist.   What are the principles to be followed in this new enterprise?  What insights can it yield into the mysteries of the making of and the response to art?

Sponsored by the Department of Art History with CMBC co-sponsorship.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Empathic Helping: Lessons from Rats

Peggy Mason, PhD
Department of Neurobiology
University of Chicago

In a rodent model for empathic helping established in my laboratory, a rat learns, without external reward or training, to deliberately open a door and thereby free a trapped rat. The motivational impetus for this pro-social behavior is neither motor mastery nor the potential reward of social play. Instead, our work suggests that communication of distress from the trapped rat to the free rat is required for helping. A rat that successfully releases a trapped rat experiences ending the trapped rat’s distress as internally rewarding, meaning that helping has consequences that are desirable and that the rat craves to experience again. In contrast to the salience that releasing the trapped rat holds for the helper rat, there is no evidence that the trapped rat experiences release as similarly salient. In addition, recent experiments exploring how social interactions modulate helping behavior reveal a rich interplay between socio-emotional relationships and the willingness to help. In sum, rats can teach us a great deal about the biological basis for helping another individual in distress. Using a simple rodent paradigm, future studies to illuminate ecological strategies to promote helping as well as environmental conditions that obstruct pro-social behavior are now possible.

Sponsored by the Department of Psychology program in Neuroscience and Animal Behavior, with CMBC co-sponsorship.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Aging and Post-reproductive Life in a Traditional World: Behavior, Physiology and Theory

Hillard Kaplan, PhD
Department of Anthropology
University of New Mexico

This talk begins by reviewing the demography of extant hunter-gatherers and forager-horticulturalists, showing the relative uniformity in the length of post-reproductive life in such small-scale societies. It then delves into the details of the aging process among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists, with respect to both behavior and physiology. The talk will present data on time allocation, productivity and resource transfers, as a function of age, sex and family composition. Those data show that Tsimane men and women remain net producers until about age 70, the modal age at death for traditional populations, with significant downward transfers to descendants. They also show that men and women adjust their time use as they age, adapting to physical decline. We will also consider changes in functional abilities, cardiovascular health, and immune function with age. Vascular disease is rare. Immunosenescence, along with functional declines, appears to be the major driver in the increasing risk of mortality with age. The lecture concludes with a discussion of the theory of human lifespan evolution, and important new directions for research.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Anthropology.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Structure, Agency, and Improvisation

Mark Risjord, PhD
Department of Philosophy
Emory University

Understanding the cognitive foundations of human culture turns, in part, on the way we understand the relationship between human agents and the larger social structures we create.  The unique human abilities to act as a group and to form enduring institutions require species-specific cognitive capacities.  Recent work in both philosophy (Searle) and psychology (Tomasello) has suggested that part of the account involves a special kind of intentionality: a “we-intention.”  We-intentions link individual representations to group-level phenomena like money or linguistic meaning. This lecture will use the example of improvisation in a jazz ensemble to explore the adequacy of the idea of we-intentions as it is understood by Tomasello, Searle and other proponents.  I will argue that the standard models of joint action require the group goals and roles to be determinate in ways that are implausible for jointly improvised performances.  Making sense of these examples requires us to rethink the conception of agency. This lecture will end by sketching an alternative account of agency and joint action, and argue that it provides a better framework for understanding how cognitive abilities like joint attention and mind-reading contribute to the capacity for human sociality.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Learning to Hear God Speak, Sometimes Audibly

Tanya Luhrmann, PhD
Department of Anthropology
Stanford University

Dr. Luhrmann is currently the Watkins University Professor in the Anthropology Department at Stanford University.  She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.  Her work focuses on the way people make judgments about what is real, both in the domain of the spiritual and supernatural, and in psychosis, when process of judgment is fundamentally askew.

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology and Religion and the Hightower Fund.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Do Environment and Experience Shape Intuitive Biological Thought?

John Coley, PhD
Department of Psychology
Northeastern University 

Increasingly, researchers are acknowledging the importance of context in conceptual developmental. I will present evidence from experimental studies of folk biological reasoning in urban, suburban and rural elementary-school children. These results suggest independent influences of (1) children's general environment, and (2) the kinds of specific experiences or activities that children engage in on intuitive biological reasoning. I'll discuss possible implications of this pattern of results for understanding the development of underlying conceptual structure, and for education.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Bonobo and the Atheist

Frans de Waal, PhD
Department of Psychology
Emory University

Dr. de Waal's research has shown that animals have many of the features that are generally attributed exclusively to humans, including conflict resolution, cooperation, and empathy. In his latest book, Dr. de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above, but comes from within. Based on his research on primates, he concludes that religion emerged in addition to our natural instincts for empathy and cooperation. Dr. de Waal is C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior at Emory, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Book signing and reception in White Hall lobby, following the lecture.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Biology, the Office of the President, the Office of Religious Life, the Center for EthicsYerkes National Primate Research Center, and the PBEE graduate program.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Critical Neuroscience and the Interpretive Plasticity of Neuroplasticity 

Suparna Choudhury, PhD
Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry
McGill University

I will introduce the framework of critical neuroscience through a case study about the adolescent brain and the effects of digital media. The use and misuse of digital technologies among adolescents has been the focus of fiery debates among parents, educators, policy-makers and in the media. Recently, these debates have become shaped by emerging data from cognitive neuroscience on the development of the adolescent brain and cognition. “Neuroplasticity” has functioned as a powerful metaphor in arguments both for and against the pervasiveness of digital media cultures that increasingly characterise teenage life. In this paper, we propose that the debates concerning adolescents are the meeting point of two major social anxieties both of which are characterized by the threat of “abnormal” (social) behaviour: existing moral panics about adolescent behaviour in general and the growing alarm about intense, addictive and widespread media consumption in modern societies. Neuroscience weighs in and supports these fears but interestingly, the same kinds of evidence it produces are used to challenge these fears and reframe them in positive terms. I will describe discourses about digital media, the internet and the adolescent brain in the scientific and lay literature, and describe the role of neuroscience in paradoxically substantiating and alleviating the anxieties about the shallow, frenzied, distracted and antisocial futures of compulsive teenage media users. I argue that the evidential basis is thin and ambiguous while at the same time immensely powerful, particularly at a moment in neuroscience when the Internet functions as a model for the brain itself. I conclude by suggesting how we might move beyond the poles of neuro-alarmism and neuro-enthusiasm. By analyzing the neurological adolescent in the digital age as a socially extended mind, firstly, in the sense that adolescent cognition is distributed across the brain, body and digital media tools and secondly, by viewing adolescent cognition as enabled and transformed by the institution of neuroscience, I aim to displace the normative terms of current debates. 

FALL 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ordering Disorder:  Mental Disorder, Brain Disorder, and Therapeutic Intervention

George Graham, PhD
Departments of Philosophy and Neuroscience
Georgia State University

Does the assumption that mental disorders or illnesses are existentially based in the brain and central nervous system mean that they are a subtype of brain disorder?  In this talk or presentation, I plan to show that it does not.  I claim that mental disorders can be "in" the brain without also being "of" the brain viz. brain or neural disorders.  I shall describe what this means for the distinction between mental and brain disorders, and how the successes and failures of various forms of therapeutic intervention may be used to distinguish between the two sorts of disorders.

Click for the video podcast of this lecture.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mechanisms of Infant Learning: Evolution’s Solution to Adaptive Problems

(VIDEO recording also available.) 

David H. Rakison, PhD
Department of Psychology
Carnegie Mellon University

A fundamental and longstanding issue in psychological science—which goes back to the Greek philosophers—concerns the degree to which infants use specialized domain-specific mechanisms or all-purpose domain-general mechanisms to learn about the complex world around them. In this talk, I will propose that infants are equipped with both kinds of learning mechanism, and I will present an evolutionary-based rationale for predicting a-priori which kind of mechanism should, in principle, operate in which domain (e.g., physics, math, animacy). I will support this perspective with evidence from my laboratory on the role of action and perception on infants’ ability to learn about causality, agency, and self-propulsion, as well as research on infants’ ability to detect recurrent evolutionary threats and fear-learning for those threats.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Human and Non-Human Primate Evolution: In Honor of the CMBC’s 5th Anniversary 

Frans de Waal, PhD: The Elephant in the Room
Department of Psychology, Yerkes, and Living Links Center
Emory University

Dietrich Stout, PhDHomo Faber: Technology and Human Evolution
Department of Anthropology
Emory University

The Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture will celebrate its 5th Anniversary by hosting a special lecture on Saturday, September 29th at 10:00 am. Featured speakers will be Frans de Waal (C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology; Director, Living Links Center) and Dietrich Stout (Assistant Professor, Anthropology). Each will give a 15-minute lecture followed by a brief question and answer session. Following the lecture, please join us in the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture (PAIS 464) for a reception and meet & greet with the speakers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Individual Differences In Object Vs Spatial Imagery: From Neural Correlates To Real Life Applications

Maria Kozhevnikov, PhD
Department of Radiology
Harvard University Medical School

The visual system processes object properties (such as shape and color) and spatial properties (such as location and spatial relations) in distinct systems, and neuropsychological evidence reveals that mental imagery respects this distinction. The findings reported in this presentation provide evidence that object-spatial dissociation exists also in individual differences in imagery. I will present the study that investigates the relationship between performances on various measures of visual-object and visual-spatial abilities and areas of specialization (visual art, science and humanities). Furthermore, I will describe the qualitative differences in approaches to interpreting visual abstract information between scientists, visual artists, and humanities professionals. The results of my research demonstrate that scientists and engineers excel in spatial imagery and rely primarily on spatial strategies, whereas visual artists excel in object imagery and prefer object-based strategies.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Grounding Language in Everyday Embodied Experience

Teenie Matlock, PhD
Cognitive Science
University of California, Merced

How do we understand abstract things such as time?  How do we describe car accidents and understand political messages in everyday interactions? The answer lies in our embodied experience and our ability to mentally simulate states and actions. This presentation will include results from experiments on metaphor and grammatical aspect.  I will argue that simulation drives much of our ability to generate and understand language.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Frankfurt School and the “Jewish Question” 1940-1973

Anson Rabinbach, PhD
Department of History
Princeton University

How did the theory of anti-Semitism developed by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the 1940s fare in postwar American and Germany?  Relying on rarely consulted correspondence and documents, this lecture shows how the members of the Frankfurt School in U.S. exile turned their attention to anti-Semitism and it’s historical and philosophical roots. As director of scientific research for the American Jewish Committee, Horkheimer supervised an ambitious five part Studies in Prejudice series completed in March 1950 with the publication of The Authoritarian Personality. As an “insider” in American Jewish philanthropic circles, Horkheimer concentrated his energies on the problem of anti-Semitism in the United States, which he carefully distinguished from the German experience. Horkheimer also expressed skepticism toward Zionism. After his return to Frankfurt in 1949 as rector of the university, Horkheimer regularly commented on the growing influence of conservatism in Germany, on events in the Middle East and Israel, especially the six-day war of 1967, and on the Eichmann affair.  His discussions with Adorno and other members of the Institute for Social Research reveal the tension between the philosophical arguments developed in wartime exile and the circumstances confronting American and German Jewry after World War II.

Co-sponsored by the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies and the Department of History.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cognitive Neuroscience:  Between Lifeworld and Laboratory 

Suparna Choudhury, PhD
Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry
McGill University

The goal of critical neuroscience is to create an interdisciplinary space within and around the field of neuroscience to analyze how the brain has come to be cast as increasingly relevant in explaining and intervening in individual and collective behaviors, to what ends, and at what costs. In this talk, I will give an overview of recent advances in cognitive neuroscience in the study of the adolescent brain and propose ways to approach the topic through a critical neuroscience framework. Drawing on interviews with adolescents as well as neuroscientists, I will use the adolescent brain as a case study to  discuss some of the dilemmas facing scientists working at the intersection of mind, brain and culture.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Transacting Social Identity and Individuality in Everyday Life: Ethnic and Racial Identity as a Lived Experience

William E. Cross, PhD
Morgridge College of Education
University of Denver

Considerable progress has been made in mapping the themes stressed by parents in the socialization of children of color.  A compelling framework used to make sense of this literature is the Triple Quandary Theory (Boykin, 1986; Boykin & Toms, 1985) wherein children of color are said to be socialized to anticipate, as well as become competent at, transacting and negotiating experiences with racism and discrimination (stigma transactions); experiences within the larger society involving schooling, employment, banking, healthcare, etc. (mainstream transactions); and experiences and encounters within one’s social identity neighborhood-community (social group transactions). The intent of such socialization is the grooming of youth and adults to be competent at (1.) negotiating everyday instances of discrimination and stigma; (2.) performing within mainstream institutions to fulfill wants and needs (employment, education, banking, healthcare, etc.) and (3.) achieving a sense of attachment, belonging, and bonding to one’s social culture and social group.  This talk will narrate and interrogate these social identity transactions along with Margaret Beale Spencer’s notion of individuality in order to paint a picture of the self-concept of children of color that accounts for both social identity and personal identity dynamics.  Given time permits, it will be argued that the Triple Quandary + personal identity framework has implications for comprehending the socialization processes and outcomes associated with many social groups whose members negotiate stigma, the mainstream, and intra-group belonging as part of everyday life. 

Co-sponsored by the Departments of African American Studies and Psychology.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Slow Looking: What Visual Art Tells Us about Selective Attention

Barbara Maria Stafford, PhD
Georgia Institute of Technology 

What role might research into the long conscious look play in launching new kinds of art/science collaborations? In this talk, I want to reflect on an increasingly fragile capacity in the modern world: willed or conscious attention. How do we get self-organizing views of agency, for example, as largely a matter of nonconscious and intrinsic processes, together with selectional or focusing modes of attention? I believe this question to be as fundamental as the problem of the neural correlates of consciousness, and not unrelated to it. The answer requires not just drawing on evidence coming from language but, significantly, from the workings of images.

Why do we even need to be aware that we are paying attention? In the anesthetized territory of daily life—littered with solipsistic cell phones, plug-in, sensory filtering and smoothing devices, why exploit the slashes, cracks, and gaps in our autopoietic neural systems? These are the same background systems being targeted by zombie electronic media as well as by the chemical pharmacopia wielded by a “tailored” personalized medicine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"We Speak with the Left Hemisphere": The Story of Paul Broca’s Discovery that Changed Our Understanding of the Human Brain

Lauren Harris, PhD
Department of Psychology
Michigan State University

In 1865, Paul Broca declared “We speak with the left hemisphere.” It would become one of the most important declarations in the history of the neurosciences because it signalled a fundamental change in our understanding of the human brain. The story, or at least small parts of it, is routinely told in books and articles in neuropsychology, neurology, history of psychology, and, increasingly, textbooks in general psychology and brain and behavior, and the terms “Broca’s area,” “Broca’s region,” and “Broca’s aphasia” are among the best known eponyms in medicine and the brain sciences. Many of these accounts, however, are, more or less, pro forma, skipping over some important parts of the story and, in my view, mischaracterizing certain other parts. In this talk, I want to go more deeply into the historical record because the actual story is more interesting (and less straightforward) than the one usually told. I’ll begin with a brief account of Broca’s early life and education and of what led him to study the brain. I’ll then describe the events leading to his discovery of left-hemisphere specialization for speech and discuss how he handled exceptions and how he proposed to explain cerebral lateralization. Finally, have Broca’s hypotheses about localization and lateralization of function proven to be correct? In the last part of my talk, I’ll briefly summarize recent theory and research.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

In Search of the Creative Brain: Frederic Chopin and George Sand 

Evelyne Ender, PhD
Department of Romance Languages
Hunter College, CUNY 

This lecture focuses on the intersection between aesthetics and neuroscience, and draws on research for my book-in-progress, The Graphological Impulse. Relying on “documents” of creative work, textual and musical, that emerged in an unusually productive summer Chopin and Sand spent in the countryside, I present, in a first part, an analysis of the emergence of two artworks in a blend of phenomenological and formal perspectives. The archive I use is, crucially, that of handwritten materials, which enable us to trace a creative process. The simultaneous emergence of two masterpieces of composition in related genres (music and lyrical prose) begs the question of the role played by the environment in this creative process. Capitalizing on the “ecological” explanations current in creativity studies (explanations derived from neuroscience), I offer suggestions as to how recent scientific research on synaesthesia or on unconscious processes, as well as models of brain plasticity, might help us analyze these exceptional creative experiences. Meanwhile, if these can be recast in terms of mind-brain/body, then the question arises of how a material, embodied practice of creation driven by a hand that applies pen to paper participates and intervenes in the short-of-miraculous production of two masterpieces of modern art.
This return to a graphological paradigm opens up, in conclusion, a set of questions about the value of a dialogue between literary/philosophical approaches to the process of composition and those we owe to recent advances in the neurosciences and cognitive sciences.

Co-sponsored by the Pyschoanalytic Studies Program Colloquium Series.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Continuing Enigma of Left-Handedness

Clare Porac, PhD
Department of Psychology
Pennsylvania State University

Left-handers are a minority in all human populations.  For this reason, the existence of left hand preference has simultaneously fascinated and puzzled researchers.  This talk will focus on the ongoing enigmas of left hand preference that remain elusive such as the relationship between left preference and pathology, family resemblances and differences in the side of hand preference, and studies of hand preference across cultures.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tourette Syndrome: Then and Now

Linda M. Isbell, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Once thought to be a rare and bizarre disorder, Tourette syndrome is now frequently diagnosed. Over the past
four decades, the diagnostic criteria for TS have been significantly widened, resulting in a large increase of mild
cases. The more florid and persistent afflicted patients, who once served as typical, are once again in danger of being
stigmatized. Dr. Isbell examines these phenomena and their consequences from both the perspective of a psychologist
and as a sibling and a parent of those afflicted with TS. Her lecture contextualizes her experience with what
is currently understood about TS and its frequently co-morbid disorders.

Co-sponsored by the Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Lecture Fund and the Program in Science and Society.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lifelong Bilingualism: Linguistic Costs, Cognitive Benefits, and Long-term Consequences

Ellen Bialystock, PhD
Cognitive Development 
York University, Toronto 

A growing body of research using both behavioral and neuroimaging data points to a significant effect of bilingualism on cognitive outcomes across the lifespan. The main finding is evidence for the enhancement of executive control at all stages in the lifespan, with the most dramatic results being maintained cognitive performance in elderly adults, and protection against the onset of dementia. A more complex picture emerges when the cognitive advantages of bilingualism are considered together with the costs to linguistic processing.  I will review evidence for both these outcomes and propose a framework for understanding the mechanism that could lead to these positive and negative consequences of bilingualism. 

Co-sponsored by the Emory College Language Center.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bondo: A Journey into Kono Womanhood
Sunju Ahmadu (Documentary Filmmaker)

Disputing Myths of Sexual Dysfunction in Circumcised Women
Fuambai Ahmadu (Public Health Advisor to the Vice President of Sierra Leone)

Campus-wide screening of Sunju Ahmadu’s film, "Bondo: A Journey into Kono Womanhood," followed by a lecture by Fuambai Ahmadu about female genital cutting.  

Sponsored by the Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts, Department of Women’s Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Institute of African Studies, Department of Psychology, Department of English, Department of Film Studies, Department of Sociology, the Graduate Division of Religion, Center for Faculty Development & Excellence, the Center for Ethics, and the Nat C. Robertson Fund for Science and Society.

April 23, 2012

The Zany Science

Sianne Ngai, PhD
Department of English
Stanford University

Dr. Ngai is known for her innovative work in affect theory, which she makes speak to critical issues in African-American studies, feminism, queer theory, media studies, and aesthetics. Ugly Feelings—her first book—broke new ground by drawing attention to the "minor emotions," like irritation or boredom, in modernist texts ranging from Nella Larsen to Martin Heidegger. Ngai asks how attention to these critically ignored feelings might shake up our understanding of aesthetic values and their relation to social resistance. Ngai is also the author of more than twelve scholarly articles and a forthcoming book, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, and Interesting, which further her thinking on the intersections of affect, aesthetics, and modernity, while extending her study over a wide range of canonical and marginal texts of the twentieth century.   

Co-sponsored by the Kemp Malone Committee of the Department of English.

FALL 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Building Cognition: Conceptual Innovation on the Frontiers of Science

Nancy J. Nersessian, PhD
School of Interactive Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology 

Scientific thinking is one of the most sophisticated achievements of human creativity.
Understanding how scientists think is a multifaceted problem, and addressing it requires
traversing disciplinary boundaries to conduct analyses that draw from and contribute to the fields
of cognitive science and science studies. It requires an integrative analysis of scientific practices
and outcomes as a cognitive, social, and cultural achievements.

I have been arguing that scientists extend their natural cognitive capabilities through creating
their “material culture” or “cognitive artifacts.” In contemporary science, physical and
computational models that perform dynamical simulations are a central means of building
cognition. The external model and the scientist’s (“mental”) model constitute a coupled system
through which scientists think and reason about target phenomena. Such “model-based
reasoning” comprises mental models (analogies, images, thought simulation), physical models,
and computational models.

In this talk I will focus on one, highly significant dimension of creative scientific thinking:
conceptual innovation. Conceptual innovations such as ‘gene’, ‘field’, and ‘DNA’ mark deep
transformations in our understanding of nature and often have led to so-called “Scientific
Revolutions.” Such innovations rarely arise in “eureka” moments, but stem from extended
processes in complex, dynamical systems comprising scientists, problems, and artifacts. The
investigations of research laboratories in the bio-engineering sciences carried out by my research
group over the last 10 years have provided several interesting cases of conceptual (and other)
innovation by means of simulative model-based reasoning. Here I will examine a two-year
episode in an interdisciplinary neural engineering lab where the cross-breeding of two physical
models – one computational and one biological – that involved the interaction of three graduate
student researchers, led to a significant change in the researchers mental models and ultimately
to conceptual innovation, and then to significant interventions in physical systems.
Finally, I will discuss how investigations of such model-based problem-solving practices as they
are enacted in science provide novel considerations for cognitive science theories, which are
based largely on studies of mundane cognition in controlled experimental settings.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is There A Selective Advantage for Left-Handedness? 

Howard I. Kushner, PhD
Nat C. Robertson Distinguished Professor
Department of Behavioral Sciences, 
Rollins School of Public Health, &
Program in Neuroscience & Behavioral Biology
Emory University

This presentation examines explanations for the existence of human handedness. Homo sapiens have been 90% right-handed since the Upper Paleolithic. In fact, recent investigations have found “no difference” between the frequency of left-handers 10,000 years ago and contemporary French students. Indeed, other recent studies have concluded that Neanderthalshad been normally right or rarely left-handed since theUpper Pleistocene. Non-human mammals are handed and/or pawed, but none are lateralized in the same way as humans. Typically, like mice, most are right or left pawed 50/50.  Among primates only humans demonstrate asymmetrical or lateralized language. While non-human primates show a preference for one hand or the other, in none is one hand dominant in the majority of the species. Yet, for most of human history, including in much of the planet today, the use of the left hand for writing, tool use, eating, and hygiene, has been the focus of distain and discrimination.  Moreover, since the 19th century researchers have connected left-handedness with an array of disorders including autoimmune diseases, psychiatric disorders, mental retardation, and learning disabilities.  In addition, recent studies have reported that left-handers on average died nine to ten years younger than right-handers.  Although these findings are controversial, the connection between left-handedness and developmental disorders and mental illness remains very much alive in current investigations.  Despite disagreement about what might constitute the most persuasive genetic model, the vast majority of current researchers assume that human handedness is an inherited trait. Given its seeming lack of fitness, the obvious question arises why does left-handers exist at all?   In the presentation I will examine, in historical perspective, explanations for the persistence of left-handedness. 

For more information on Dr. Kushner's work on Laterality, click here to download the free book for iPad.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eye of the Beholder: Gender and Perceptions of Mentoring in Science Education Globally 

Susan A. Nolan, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of Psychology, Seton Hall University
NGO Representative to the United Nations, American Psychological Association

Much research attests to the importance of mentoring to career achievement in general (e.g., Bozionelos, 2004; Singh et al., 2009), with further research documenting a pronounced gender disparity in mentoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields (e.g., Nolan, Buckner, Marzabadi, & Kuck, 2008; Preston, 2004). Social cognitive career theory (SCCT; e.g., Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) offers a model for understanding how environmental and personal factors interact to limit opportunities for women in STEM fields, and provides suggestions for intervention. According to our research (e.g., Nolan, Buckner, Marzabadi, & Kuck, 2008) based on SCCT, simply the perception of obstacles, including a lack of mentoring, can constrain career-related decisions and the pursuit of career goals. Our research also suggests that best practices in reducing the gender disparity in STEM must include a focus on increasing access to informal and formal mentoring – whether in person or through e-mentoring (e.g., Headlam-Wells, Gosland, & Craig, 20006) – and a concurrent focus on increasing awareness of the availability of such mentoring. Moreover, it is incumbent on female and male scientists in the western world to reach out to their colleagues in the developing world, where mentors and role models for women are even scarcer and the need for STEM expertise more pronounced. Both at home and abroad, technology offers important tools for creating opportunities, and increasing the availability of mentors, for women pursuing training and careers in STEM (e.g., Huyer & Hafkin, 2007). 

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Chemistry and Women’s Studies.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Humans and Other Animals: A Modern Darwinian Understanding of "Man's Place in Nature” 

Todd Preuss, PhD
Yerkes National Primate Research Center
Emory University

The history of life reflects the interaction between the mechanisms of heredity, conservative forces that promote the unity of life, and the mechanisms of evolutionary change, which promote the diversity of life.  Since the beginning of scientific biology, scientists have had to deal with the tension between these forces, and how they have done so is reflected in their views of the place of humans in the natural world.  Darwin and his contemporaries emphasized unity, continuity, and progress, with the result that humans were viewed as merely the most refined or improved version of a basic plan shared by hundreds of primate species.  From this point of view, claims of uniqueness for humans—and in particular, of the human brain and mind—sound like special pleading.   Recent years have witnessed important changes in scientists' interpretations of the history of life:  more emphasis is now being placed on diversity and discontinuity, and each species is understood to be the product of a (partly) unique evolutionary history.  Also, the idea that evolution is fundamentally about progress has largely been abandoned.  From this point of view, humans are no better (biologically speaking) than any other species.  However, acknowledging the unique evolutionary history of all species opens the door to the possibility that different species—including the human species— have evolved unique characteristics.  Modern claims about human neural and cognitive specializations will be considered in this light.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Toward Second-Person Neuroscience

Leonhard Schilbach, PhD
Department of Psychiatry
University of Cologne

My research areas of interest are social neuroscience and psychiatry. More specifically, I am interested in how human beings understand and make sense of each other. Here, my research is based on the assumption that social cognition is fundamentally different when we are engaged with others, in interaction with them (‘online‘ social cognition), rather than merely observing them (‘offline‘ social cognition). In particular, I am interested in exploring the ways in which social interaction and interpersonal coordination can be motivating and rewarding and how this interacts with other aspects of cognition and processes of self-regulation.

Adopting this second-person approach to other minds and exploring it empirically by using functional neuroimaging and interactive eyetracking holds promise to allow new insights into the neurobiological correlates of real-time social interaction, which may also be relevant for our understanding of psychiatric (and other) disorders.  

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Allure of Forbidden Food and Insights from Mindfulness

Esther K. Papies, PhD
Utrecht University
The Netherlands

The pursuit of long-term health goals, such as dieting for weight loss, is difficult in an environment full of attractive temptations, such as tasty, high-calorie food. In this talk, I will show how attractive food cues can trigger a hedonic motivation to eat, especially in dieters, but also how their impact can be reduced to facilitate successful self-regulation. First, a series of studies analyzes the cognitive effects of attractive food cues, which may underlie the self-regulatory failures of dieters. Then, field experiments demonstrate how self-regulation can be enhanced by priming the dieting goal in tempting situations, so that the hedonic motivation triggered by attractive food is not translated into behavior. Finally, recent work suggests that self-regulation can effectively be enhanced by preventing the initial activation of the hedonic impulses towards food. Building on insights from contemplative science, we introduce a brief mindfulness procedure which helps participants to observe their reactions to attractive food cues as transient mental events, rather than experiencing them as subjectively real events in the moment. A series of studies shows that this procedure prevents spontaneous impulses towards food temptations, reduces preferences for attractive food, and decreases experienced food cravings. Together, these studies are informative as to the nonconscious processes that can lead to self-regulatory failures in “tempting” environments. Integrating insights from different traditions suggests novel ways to counter these effects.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology and the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies (ECCS).


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Maisie's Spasms: Transferential Poetics in Henry James and Wilfred Bion

Adam Frank, PhD
Department of English
University of British Columbia - Vancouver

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Epistemic Vigilance, Reasoning, and Religion 

Konrad Talmont-Kaminski, PhD
Institute of Philosophy
Marie Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland 

The human capacity for cultural learning is highly advantageous but susceptible to misinformation, requiring that epistemic trust be balanced with epistemic vigilance (Sperber et al. 2010). Reasoning is vital for maintaining epistemic vigilance towards content of information and requires that truth be an explicit norm (Mercier & Sperber in press). Attention to credibility enhancing displays (CREDs), on the other hand, is a mechanism for epistemic vigilance towards the source of information (Henrich 2009). Because they focus on different aspects of a message, reasoning and attention to CREDs can lead to conflicting conclusions.

On the population level, CREDs play an important role in stabilising religious beliefs, making it possible for religions to motivate prosocial behaviour. However, this function of religions is noncognitive, i.e. not connected to their truth (Wilson 2002). This means that for religions to be selected on the basis of their effectiveness, they must be protected against potential counterevidence (Talmont-Kaminski 2009). Such ‘superempirical’ status is partly determined by the content of such beliefs and partly by their social and methodological context. While on the whole adaptive, this conflicts with the normative stance required by reasoning. The resulting pragmatic contradiction can be moderated by various means, but never eliminated.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Becoming Non-Modern: Reflections on IT and Pace of Life from a Newfoundland Fishing Village

Phoebe Sengers, PhD
Information Science and Science & Technology Studies
Cornell University

Friday, April 1, 2011

There is No Moral Faculty

Mark Johnson, PhD
Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Department of Philosophy
University of Oregon

The past two decades have witnessed a robust revival of naturalized approaches to ethics. This resurgence of concern with empirical research on moral cognition is due chiefly to recent developments in cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. While I share this naturalized perspective, I am concerned about the emergence of the wildly popular view that all humans possess a moral faculty or instinct that underlies their cross-cultural intuitive judgments about right and wrong. Proponents of moral faculty theories include Marc Hauser, John Mikhail, Gil Harmon, and many other luminaries. I argue that the positing of a moral faculty is (1) scientifically suspect in light of a substantial body of research on cognition, (2) quite unnecessary for explaining our moral understanding and judgment, and (3) distracting from the direction we should be moving in our efforts to articulate a non-transcendent, empirically-sound theory of moral cognition. I then propose that John Dewey sketched the outline of what a psychologically realistic account of morality ought to look like, and I gesture toward some recent scientifically sophisticated conceptions of morality that have an appropriately Deweyan character.

FALL 2010

September 15, 2010

Dynamic Mechanistic Explanations and Endogenously Active Brains

William Bechtel, PhD
Department of Philosophy
University of California, San Diego

September 19, 2010

Plato's Camera: How the Physical Brain Captures a Landscape of Abstract Universals

Paul Churchland, PhD
Department of Philosophy
University of California, San Diego

November 3, 2010

Evolved Cognitive Mechanisms for Revenge and Forgiveness

Mike McCullough, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Miami

November 18, 2010

The Power of Charisma: How Trust Affects Your Brain

Uffe Schjoedt, PhD
Department of Religion
University of Aarhus
University of California, Santa Barbara


January 20, 2010

Attention and Perception Across Cultures

Jules Davidoff, PhD
Department of Psychology
University College, London

February 18, 2010

Who Are You? The Self As a Complex System

Paul Thagard, PhD
Department of Cognitive Science
University of Waterloo

February 25, 2010

Born Believers: The Naturalness of Childhood Religion

Justin Barrett, PhD
Department of Anthropology
University of Oxford

March 24, 2010

Brains, Genes and Language Evolution

Morten H. Christiansen, PhD
Departments of Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Cornell University

Why is language the way it is, and how did it come to be that way? Answering these questions requires postulating genetic constraints on language. A key challenge for language evolution research is therefore to explain whether such genetic constraints are specific to language or whether they might be more general in nature. In this talk, I argue that traditional notions of universal grammar as a biological endowment of abstract linguistic constraints can be ruled out on evolutionary grounds. Instead, the fit between the mechanisms employed for language and the way in which language is acquired and used can be explained by processes of cultural evolution shaped by the human brain. On this account, language evolved by 'piggy-backing' on pre-existing neural mechanisms, constrained by socio-pragmatic considerations, the nature of our thought processes, perceptuo-motor factors, and cognitive limitations on learning, memory and processing. Using behavioral, computational and molecular genetics methods, I then explore how one of these constraints—the ability to learn and process sequentially presented information—may have played an important role in shaping language through cultural evolution. I conclude by drawing out the implications of this viewpoint for understanding the problem of language acquisition, which is cast in a new, and much more tractable, form.

March 25, 2010

Language Modeling and Computational Cognitive Science

Morten H. Christiansen, PhD
Departments of Philosophy and Cognitive Science
Cornell University

Special lecture to Language Group.

FALL 2009

October 5, 2009

Concept Learning, Mental Training, and Behavior Change: Perspectives from Buddhism and Western Science

Larry Barsalou, PhD
Department of Psychology
Emory University 

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD
Department of Religion
Emory University

October 27, 2009

The Science of Empathy and Compassion: Perspectives from Buddhism and Psychoneuroimmunology

Charles Raison, MD
Department of Psychiatry
Emory University 

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD
Department of Religion
Emory University

November 5, 2009

The Effect of Intensive Meditation Training on Attentional Stability: Neural and Behavioral Evidence

Antoine Lutz, PhD
Waisman Lab for Brain Imaging and Behavior
University of Wisconsin - Madison


February 3, 2009

Category Extension, Conceptual Blending, and Shakespeare's Henry V

Amy Cook, PhD
Department of Theater Studies
Emory University

March 2, 2009

Philosophy of Social Science Roundtable Discussion

Ken Schaaffner, PhD
History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh

March 16, 2009

Language Acquisition and the Brain

Reiko Mazuka, PhD
Department of Psychology, Duke University
RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Tokyo

Yashuhior Shirai, PhD
Department of Linguistics 
University of Pittsburgh

Paired lecture series.

March 20, 2009

Behavioral and Psychiatric Genomics: Current State and Future Forecasts

Ken Schaffner, PhD
History and Philosophy of Science
University of Pittsburgh

FALL 2008

November 11, 2008

Decisions, Responsibility, and the Brain

Patricia Smith Churchland, PhD
Department of Philosophy
University of California, San Diego

As we come to understand the role of genes in neuronal wiring, and neuronal wiring in the production of  behavior, we are newly confronted with questions about choice and responsibility. Although questions concerning what free choice really amounts to have long been at the center of philosophical reflection, new discoveries, especially  from neuropharmacology and neuropsychology, have lent them a special and very practical urgency.  In the courts, in the education of children, and in general in daily life,  we assume that some decisions are freely made and that agents should be held accountable for those decisions. On the other hand, we see the range of allowable excuses from responsibility broadening as we begin to understand the role of certain neuropathologies in aberrant behavior. These developments take place against the public policy debate concerning the right balance between considerations of public safety, justice, fairness, and individual freedom. From the perspective of neurophilosophy, I shall address some of the broad questions in this arena, including the theological and  metaphysical contention that free choice is uncaused choice, and the proposal that pragmatic and scientific considerations can yield the best working hypothesis regarding when to attribute responsibility.


February 18, 2008

Culture and Mind

Harry Triandis, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Illinois