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Events & Programs

Current Events




Please see the complete listing of events below, as all events may not appear on the calendars above.



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Friday, January 31     
10:00 am, PAIS 280 
LECTURE:  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.

A screening of The Silence of the Lambs will be held in advance of the lecture on Wednesday, January 29th at 4:30 pm, White Hall 206. CANCELLED DUE TO WEATHER.

Additional funding provided by the Hightower Fund.


Friday, February 14        
12:00 noon, PAIS 464


Acquisition of Paleolithic Toolmaking Abilities Involves Structural Remodeling to Inferior Frontoparietal Regions

Erin Hecht
Department of Anthropology
Emory University

Human ancestors first intentionally modified stones into tools about 2.6 million years ago, initiating a cascading increase in technological complexity that continues today.  A parallel trend of brain expansion during the Paleolithic has motivated over 100 years of theorizing linking stone toolmaking and human brain evolution, but empirical support remains limited.  The current study aimed to identify neuroanatomical targets of natural selection acting on toolmaking ability.  Subjects received MRI and DTI scans before, during, and after an intensive, two-year Paleolithic toolmaking training program.  White matter fractional anisotropy (FA) showed changes in branches of the superior longitudinal fasciculus leading into left supramarginal gyrus, bilateral ventral precentral gyri, and right inferior frontal gyrus pars triangularis.  FA correlated with training hours, increasing from Scan 1-2, a period of intense training, and decreasing from Scan 2-3, a period of reduced training.  Similarly, voxel-based morphometry found gray matter expansion in the left supramarginal gyrus from Scan 1-2 and a reversal of this effect from Scan 2-3.  Probabilistic tractography confirmed that white matter changes projected to gray matter changes and to other regions that activate during Paleolithic toolmaking.  These results show that the acquisition of Paleolithic toolmaking skills requires the re-allocation of structural resources and likely affected the trajectory of human brain evolution.  These regions participate not only in toolmaking but also in other complex functions including action planning and language. This substantiates the hypothesized co-evolution of these functions and supports the interaction between technological, social, communicative, and neural complexity in human evolution.

Application of Wavelets and Machine Learning to Detect Electromyographic Activity in Human Sleep

Jacqueline Fairley
Department of Neurology
Emory University

Manual/visual identification of phasic muscle activity, during human sleep, represents a potentially reliable metric for distinguishing between neurodegenerative disorder populations and age-matched controls. However, visual scoring of PEM activity is laborious, time consuming, and potentially error prone-preventing feasible implementation within a clinical setting. Therefore, in this talk I will discuss how wavelets and machine learning can be used to automatically identify phasic muscle activity during human sleep via the polysomnogram.  More specifically, I will focus on Symlet and Daubechies wavelet families, principle component analysis, forward floating search feature selection, and linear classification. Results from this work provide evidence that automated detection compares satisfactorily to expert manual scoring (>90% classification performance) in 11/12 datasets.

Limited attendance by registration only. Opportunities to register will be announced.


Tuesday, February 18
4:00 pm, Oxford Presentation Auditorium, Oxford Road Building

LECTURE:  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.


Friday, February 21st
12:00 noon 

LUNCH:  Gender Matters in the Academy?

Carla Freeman
Department of Anthropology
Emory University

Kim Wallen
Department of Psychology
Emory University

This collaborative discussion turns attention to gender in the academy. How are academic work and the academic workplace gendered? We approach these broad questions not simply from the perspective of relative numbers, promotion records, pay, etc. of women/men in the ranks of students, staff, faculty and administrators, but by exploring the subtle dimensions and performances of gender that shape the very fabric of academic work and workplace practices.

Limited attendance by registration only. Opportunities to register will be announced.


Thursday, February 20       
4:00 pm, White Hall 112

LECTURE:   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               
4:00 pm, White Hall 112

LECTURE:  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.


Friday, February 28th

12 noon, PAIS 464

Proteomics and Its Relevance to Dystonia Research and Medicine

Teresa Douglas
Department of Neurology
Emory University

Proteomics involves large scale analysis of functional proteins and their physiological interactions. Technological advancements have improved the sensitivity and scale of proteomic analysis thus leading to a dramatic expansion of proteomics methods in health and disease research.  The neurosciences have also adopted proteomics in the effort to identify pathological causes of several common diseases and identify therapeutic targets. Some earlier discoveries have already been translated into clinical care. Dystonia, a muscle movement disorder that is often debilitating and can affect persons of any age, is among the lesser known neurological conditions. Like many lesser known neurological diseases, the field of dystonia research and care is in urgent need of clinical breakthroughs stemming from modern proteomics analyses. Current and upcoming proteomics research as it relates to dystonia, limitations of proteomics analysis, along with the potential benefits to dystonia affected patients as proteomics technology continues to advance and become more applicable to both research efforts and medical care will be covered in the presentation.

Reciprocal Effect of Type I IFN Signaling on CD8 T cells: An Intricate Phenomenon

Siddhartha Bhaumik
Emory Vaccine Center
Emory School of Medicine

Type I Interferons (IFNs) play a major role in initiating the innate immune response and shaping the nature of the adaptive immune response. Previous work from our laboratory has shown that the induction and requirement of Type I IFNs on CD8 T cells for their clonal expansion and memory generation depends largely on the pathogen. In this context, there is very little known about the effect of Type I IFNs on the CD8 T cell development during West Nile Virus (WNV) infection, which in humans the clinical manifestations can range from feeble fever to fatal meningoencephalitis. Here, using a murine footpad infection model we addressed two questions: (1) what happens to virus-specific CD8 T cell responses if the infected host is devoid of IFN-I signaling, (2) what happens to virus-specific CD8 response if only CD8 T cells lack IFN-I signaling. Our results show that lack of IFN-I signaling in the host lead to increased susceptibility to WNV infection and exaggerated CD8 T cell clonal expansion, while lack of IFN-I signaling only on the CD8 T cells showed a diminished clonal expansion. Together our results suggest that the IFN-I mediated innate viral control is important for determining the measure of CD8 T cell effector and memory differentiation. This knowledge has implications in the development of vaccine strategies against the neurotropic WNV infection.

Limited attendance by registration only. Opportunities to register will be announced.


Wednesday, March 5th
4:00 pm, PAIS 464 

INFORMATION SESSION:  The Certificate Program in Mind, Brain, and Culture

Lynne Nygaard, Certificate Program Director
Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture
Emory University

The Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture has a Certificate Program for students interested in understanding issues relating to mind, brain, culture and their intersections, from multiple disciplinary perspectives. We invite interested students to join us for an information session about the certificate program. Light refreshments will be served. 


Wednesday, March 19th
4:00 pm, PAIS 290


LECTURE: 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.


Wednesday, March 19th
12:00 noon, PAIS 464


Utilizing a Unique Animal Model to Connect Genes and Social Behavior

Wendy Zinzow-Kramer
Department of Psychology
Emory University

Over the past decade, behavioral scientists have become increasingly interested in genetics as a tool to predict behavior and identify risk factors for psychiatric illness. The link between genetic polymorphisms and behavioral constructs such as “aggression” is still lacking, largely because of a failure to consider the intermediary steps that happen at the levels of gene transcription and protein function. We utilize a songbird model, the white-throated sparrow, which allows us to study social behavior in a natural environment and correlate behavior with gene expression. This species exhibits a plumage polymorphism that correlates with many aspects of social behavior. Individuals with a white stripe (WS) on the crown are more aggressive and have higher song rates than individuals with a tan stripe (TS). The plumage polymorphism is linked to a chromosomal rearrangement, presenting a unique opportunity to study the relationship between genes and social behavior. The powerful and exciting technology of next-generation sequencing will be utilized to identify genes in the brain that vary in expression with relation to both plumage morph and aggressive behavior. Because genes and pathways that regulate social behavior are highly conserved, the findings of this research will be relevant to the mechanisms underlying social behavior in all vertebrates, including humans.

Neurobiological Pathways Predicting Risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Jennifer Stevens
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Emory University

Although a large percentage of the general population experiences a significant traumatic event during their lifetime, only about 7% develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  What are the factors that contribute to resilience or vulnerability to PTSD after a trauma?  This question has been difficult to answer, particularly because PTSD is a complex disorder with symptoms that vary widely from individual to individual. We have found several examples showing how individual differences in brain function can increase our ability to explain risk for PTSD, indicating mechanisms for the contributions of both genetic and experiential risk factors.  I will discuss these findings and focus on possible neurobiological pathways for the heightened risk of PTSD in women relative to men.

Limited attendance by registration only. Opportunities to register will be announced.


March 22nd – 29th

CONFERENCE:   Atlanta Science Festival

The Atlanta Science Festival is a weeklong celebration of local science and technology. Atlanta residents of all ages will have the opportunity to explore the science and technology in our region and see how science is connected to all parts of our lives. Scientists and educators from museums, local schools, universities, and companies will uncover mysteries and explain discoveries in a range of hands-on activities, facility tours, stimulating presentations, and riveting performances to expand our community of science enthusiasts and inspire a new generation of curious thinkers.  Founded by Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the festival is a collaboration among diverse community partners planning a collection of events for young people, families, and adults.

For more information, please see the Atlanta Science Festival website.


Monday, March 24th     
4:00 pm, Oxford Presentation Auditorium, Oxford Road Building

LECTURE:  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
4:00 pm, PAIS 290

LECTURE:  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.


Thursday, March 27th   
4:00 pm, PAIS 290

PUBLIC CONVERSATION:  Brain Imaging:  Sense and Nonsense, Science and Nonscience

Greg Berns
Facility for Education and Research in Neuroscience (FERN)
Emory University

Scott Lilienfeld
Department of Psychology
Emory University

What can we learn from brain imaging, and what are its limits?  Drs. Gregory Berns and Scott Lilienfeld will discuss – and debate – the promise and perils of brain imaging with regard to mind-reading, neuromarketing, lie detection, criminal responsibility, and psychiatric diagnosis. More broadly, they will explore scientific and ethical controversies concerning neuroimaging, and strive to separate fact from fiction in both popular and academic coverage of this technology.   

Held in conjunction with the Atlanta Science Festival.


Wednesday, April 9th
4:00 pm, PAIS 290 

LECTURE: 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
4:00 pm, PAIS 290

LECTURE: 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. 


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CMBC SUMMER WORKSHOP: Cognitive Science and Religion

May 15-16, 2014

Over the last twenty-five years, scholars have brought the theories and findings as well as the tools and methods of the various cognitive and brain sciences to bear on religious thought and behavior.  From its beginnings the cognitive science of religion has been a thoroughly inter-disciplinary undertaking, seeking to integrate formal modeling, experimental psychology, ethnographic research, and evolutionary insights. More recently, general trends in cognitive science, from deploying the tools of brain imaging to incorporating insights about embodiment, have swept across the cognitive science of religion as well, shaping accounts of religious beliefs and representations (both mental and public), ritual and other forms of religious conduct, religious attitudes and values, and types of religious experience. This workshop explores some of the most prominent directions such research has taken over the last twenty-five years, focusing specifically on some of the most exciting recent developments.

The CMBC gratefully acknowledges support for this Summer Workshop from the Laney Graduate School, the Graduate Division of Religion, and the Departments of Psychology and Religion. 

Speakers and Topics Include:

Cristine Legare (Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin)

The Cognitive Foundations of Cultural Learning

Imitation is multifunctional; it is crucial not only for the transmission of instrumental skills but also for learning cultural conventions such as rituals (Herrmann, Legare, Harris, & Whitehouse, 2013; Legare & Herrmann, 2013). Despite the fact that imitation is a pervasive feature of children’s behavior, little is known about the kinds of information children use to determine when an event provides an opportunity for learning instrumental skills versus cultural conventions. In my talk I will discuss a program of research aimed at developing an integrated theoretical account of how children use imitation flexibly as a tool for cultural learning. I propose that the cognitive systems supporting flexible imitation are facilitated by the differential activation of an instrumental stance (i.e., rationale based on physical causation) and a ritual stance (i.e., rationale based on cultural convention). I will present evidence that the instrumental stance increases innovation and the ritual stance increases imitative fidelity, the dual engines of cultural learning.

The Coexistence of Natural and Supernatural Explanations across Cultures and Development

In both lay and scientific writing, natural explanations (potentially knowable and empirically verifiable phenomena of the physical world) and supernatural explanations (phenomena that violate or operate outside of, or distinct from, the natural world) are often conceptualized in contradictory or incompatible terms. My research has demonstrated that this common assumption is psychologically inaccurate. I propose instead that the same individuals frequently use both natural and supernatural explanations to interpret the very same events. To support this hypothesis, my colleagues and I reviewed converging developmental data on the coexistence of natural and supernatural explanations from diverse cultural contexts in three areas of biological thought: the origin of species, the acquisition of illnesses, and the causes of death
(Legare, Evans, Rosengren, & Harris, 2012; Legare & Visala, 2011; Legare & Gelman, 2008). We identified multiple predictable and universal ways in which both kinds of explanations coexist in individual minds at proximate and ultimate levels of analysis. For example, synthetic thinking (i.e., combining two kinds of explanations without integration), integrative thinking (i.e., integrating two kinds of explanations by distinguishing proximate and ultimate causes), and target-dependent thinking (i.e., two kinds of explanations remain distinct and are used to explain different aspects of an event, depending on contextual information) all illustrate different kinds of explanatory coexistence. We also discovered that supernatural explanations often increase, rather than decrease, with age. Reasoning about supernatural phenomena, in short, seems to be an integral and enduring aspect of human cognition, not a transient or ephemeral element of childhood cognition.

Ritual and the Rationality Problem:  Old Wine in a New Bottle

As a group, we will examine the kinds of ritualistic remedies used to treat a great variety of problems across highly diverse cultural contexts and vast stretches of historical time. Our objective will be to identify the kinds of information people may use to evaluate the efficacy of these pervasive cultural practices.

Evidence from the Supernatural:  Evaluating Ritual Efficacy

Rituals pose a cognitive paradox: although widely used to treat problems, they are cultural conventions and lack causal explanations for their effects. How do people evaluate the efficacy of rituals in the absence of causal information? To address this question, I have examined the kinds of information that influence perceptions of ritual efficacy experimentally (Legare & Souza, 2012; 2013). I conducted three studies (N = 162) in Brazil, a cultural context in which rituals called simpatias are used to treat a great variety of problems ranging from asthma to infidelity.  Using ecologically-valid content, I designed experimental simpatias to manipulate the kinds of information that influence perceptions of efficacy (e.g., repetition, number of procedural steps). The results provide evidence that information reflecting intuitive causal principles affects how people evaluate ritual efficacy. I propose that the structure of ritual is the product of an evolved cognitive system of intuitive causality.

E. Thomas Lawson (Queens University and Western Michigan University (emeritus))

Obstacles and Opportunities:  Reflections on the Origins of the Cognitive Science of Religion

A focus on interpretation at the expense of explanation in the humanities, particularly religious studies, an insistence on the autonomy of the social sciences at the cost of underestimating the value of psychology, and an overemphasis on cultural differences while being blind to human commonalities in anthropology all presented obstacles to developing a theoretically sophisticated, empirically tractable  science of religion until the cognitive revolution provide the means and methods to do so.

Greg Berns (Facility for Education and Research in Neuroscience (FERN), Emory University)

Brain Imaging Studies of Sacred Values and Social Norms

We hypothesize that when people engage sacred values that underpin many political conflicts, they behave differently than when operating with the more mundane values of the marketplace and normal social interactions. Given the importance of sacred values, and their potential for triggering violent conflict, it is important to understand how sacred values become intertwined in decision making. Traditionally, this type of investigation has been the purview of anthropology and sociology. However, recent advances in functional brain imaging make it possible to use this technology to uncover biological signatures in the brain for sacred values and the neural systems that come online when they are violated.


John Dunne (Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University)

Scientific Research on Meditation and the Cognitive Science of Religion: Anything Shared?
Scientific research on meditation has grown exponentially in the last two decades, yet that research often remains disconnected from the academic study of religion. Likewise, cognitive scientific approaches to religion often seem irrelevant to the scientific study of meditation. Why do these fields of research largely fail to interact, and what does it tell us about our notion of religion?

Robert N. McCauley (Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture (CMBC), Emory University)

The Cognitive Science of Religion:  Seminal Findings and New Trends

Theorists in the cognitive science of religion have proposed that many religious proclivities are by-products of garden-variety cognitive systems that humans share.  This general theoretical proposal has generated a variety of notable experimental findings pertaining to such matters as the character and memorability of religious representations, the failure of religious participants to deploy orthodox beliefs in on-line cognitive processing, and the human penchant for “promiscuous teleology.”  Subsequent influences on the cognitive science of religion over the past fifteen years do not differ from those affecting cognitive science more broadly.  Perhaps the three most prominent of those influences concern evolutionary considerations, the growing availability of brain imaging tools, and an interest in religious experience and embodiment.  Each has inspired experimental studies that have produced comparably significant findings concerning such topics as developmental regularities in reasoning about the afterlife, the impact of public ritual participation and other forms of costly signaling on commitment to religious groups (in particular), neural evidence implicating theory of mind in prayer, the impact of synchronous bodily movements on pain thresholds, and more. 

Vernon K. Robbins (Graduate Division of Religion, Emory University)

Conceptual Blending and Interactive Emergence in Early Christian Writings
In the context of three major Mediterranean modes of religious thought and practice—mythical, philosophical, and ritual—early Christians produced writings during the first century CE that exhibit six discursive-religious forms of life. The conceptual blending of time, space, and body in this discursive-religious environment created interactive emergence identifiable as prophetic, apocalyptic, wisdom, precreation, miracle, and priestly thought and practice. Rhetography, which is rhetoric that evokes graphic images and pictures in the mind, working interactively with rhetology, which is rhetoric that produces verbal argumentation, nurtured such energetic cognitive-conceptual blends that their effects are still observable in Christianity today. This presentation will feature a combination of past results and recent insights from Emory Sawyer Seminars on Visual Exegesis and Hermeneutics

Bradd Shore (Department of Anthropology, Emory University)

Religion and Ritual: A Marriage Made in Heaven
While ritualized behavior is not exclusively associated with religious experience, there is clearly a powerful affinity between religion and ritual. A look at the evolutionary roots of human ritual and several of its cognitive and experiential characteristics sheds interesting light on some of the underlying reasons for this affinity.




The Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture is located on the Emory main campus in the Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences (PAIS) Building, 4th floor. The PAIS building is at the intersection of Dowman Drive and Eagle Row.

Parking is available in the Peavine Visitor's Parking Lot at 29 Eagle Row.  From N. Decatur Road, enter the roundabout and turn right through the main University gate onto Dowman Drive.  Once you have entered, continue to the deadend and make a right onto Eagle Row.  The Peavine Visitor Lot will be on your left. Parking rates are $5 for 1-2 hours.

Map of CMBC Location

Full campus map – Click here for the online printable pdf

Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture
Emory University
Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences Building
Suite 464
36 Eagle Row
Atlanta, GA 30322


(404) 727-1134



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