Conferences & Symposia

CMBC hosts conferences and symposia almost every year in an effort to help bridge disciplines to foster new academic ideas and research.

FALL 2019



Monday, 11/4/19
3 - 6pm
White Hall 205
Open to Public


3:00 PM
Psychology, University of Georgia

A Biological Theory of Tooling

Although using tools is a central feature of human biology, the lack of biologically-grounded theory in this domain limits our ability to study the phenomenon to relate it to human evolution. To begin to fill this gap, I present a theory of tooling applicable to individuals of all species. The theory draws on (a) ecological (perception–action) theory in psychology, that links an animal’s behavior to its perception of affordances, (b) psychological theories about how animals perceive space and move themselves in space, and (c) the biomechanical approach to the study of body movement and the development of coordination of movement.  Tooling theory supports testable hypotheses concerning a) the forms of tooling present in diverse taxa with varying perceptual and motor systems and bodies, b) the effects of specific environmental, individual, and task features on a specific performance, and c) the development of tooling. The determination that an action is or is not tooling has no bearing on a judgment about the intellect of the tooler. Instead, a classification of an action as tooling determines the analytical strategy one can take to examine the action. I apply the theory to wild bearded capuchin monkeys cracking nuts with stone hammers and anvils. 

4:00 PM
Computer Science, Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Neuroscience, and Psychology |University of Southern California

The Aboutness of Language and the Evolution of the Construction-Ready Brain

To start with, the talk will review and update the hypothesis (How the Brain Got Language, Oxford University Press, 2012) that early Homo sapiens were language-ready in the sense that they had brains that could have supported language had it already been developed – but they were not language-using. The approach sees protolanguage emerging from complex recognition and imitation of manual skills via biocultural evolution, while cultural evolution alone supported the emergence of language from protolanguage. The key innovation in this talk is the argument that this approach supports the view that the H. sapiens language-ready brain had the more general property of being construction-ready. This notion will be illustrated with data from monkey and human tool use and bird nest construction (introducing the word becculation, manipulation with a beak, into the English language) as well as data and speculations on symbols and symbolism in the protohistory of human architecture.


SUSAN HEALY | Biology, University of St. Andrews

Building, Making, Creating: From Etymology to Behaviour and Intelligence

Tool making and use are often considered a hallmark of intelligence: the discovery that New Caledonian crows made tools caused a flurry of excitement in the world of animal cognition with much talk of 'feathered apes’.  Of the explanations for the rarity of tool making across the animal kingdom (e.g. brain size, group size, sociality), none appear satisfactory.  The rarity of the behaviour makes it difficult to study in an evolutionary context, but a phenotypically similar behaviour, nest building, is not at all rare. And it is increasingly amenable to investigation: I will present evidence of decision making with regard to appropriate materials and local environmental conditions, associating building decisions with reproductive success and the possibility of cultural evolution of built structures.



FALL 2018

CMBC Associate Director, Dietrich Stout is one of the speakers at the CARTA Symposium. CMBC is hosting a Webcast Watch Party. CARTA information can be found here including, speakers, bios, and abstracts.


CARTA Webcast flyer


March 27, 2018
PAIS 280, 4:00 pm


Effects of Early Life Stress and Diet on Gut Microbiome in Infant Macaques

Early life stress has adverse effects on neurodevelopment. Although various neurobiological mechanisms have been proposed for early life stress "gets under the skin", accumulating evidence suggests that the brain-gut-microbiota axis plays an important role in programming neurobehavioral development and is vulnerable to stress. The gut microbiome begins to be colonized early in life and has been shown to be critical for the normative development of the central nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Here we investigated whether early life stress and disordered diet the gut microbiome in infants rhesus macaques. Using neuroimaging data from a larger longitudinal project,

Melanie Pincus (Neuroscience, Emory University)


An Ensemble Modeling Approach to Identifying Recruitment Principles in the Sympathetic Nervous System in Mice

Thoracic sympathetic postganglionic neurons (tSPNs), innervated by preganglionic neurons in the spinal cord, are the last common motor output of the sympathetic nervous system, and directly control vasculature. Dysfunction of tSPNs, such as hyperexcitability, has been observed after spinal cord injury, yet is known about the building blocks of tSPNs. Combining electrophysiological data with computational modeling, we built a database of physiologically realistic models, and elucidated several cellular mechanisms that govern the dynamics of tSPN. This work lays the foundation to examine the dysfunction and synaptic integration rules of tSPNs.

Kun Tian (Biology, Emory University)


The Role of Epigenetics and Biological Markers in Prosociality

I will present findings on how oxytocin peptide levels and DNA methylation of the oxytocin receptor are correlated with personality traits and prosociality in healthy individuals and in patients with autism.

Elissar Andari (Psychiatry, Emory School of Medicine)



FALL 2017


The Lying Conference 

Friday, November 17, 2017
Emory Conference Center Starvine Ballroom
8:45 AM - 6:00 PM

View program information here . Visit the website here .

Speaker Abstracts: 


Perspective-taking and Dishonest Communication in Primates and Other Animals

Frans BM of Waal Living Links, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

The study of Theory-of-Mind (ToM) began with a research by Emil Menzel and later David Premack, which was expanded in developmental psychology, which made it a key measure of social intelligence. Recently, ToM research returned with a vengeance to the apes when False Belief was finally conducted. The apes seemed to pass, which adds evidence that apes and a few other nonhuman animals can take the perspective of others. One of the expressions of this capacity is deceptive deception, which is clearly more likely to be more severe. There is plenty of functional deception in animals (eg mimicry), but tactical deception is more flexible and based on learning and anticipation of the reactions of others. It may require enhanced perspective-taking and self-other distinction.


Lying, American Style

Bradd Shore  Department of Anthropology, Emory University

Even for the most ardent empiricist, there can be no objective definition of lying. Like many of our familiar ideas, just thinking about "a cultural model" rather than a simple objective phenomenon. In this talk, I will try to illuminate some of the presuppositions that underlie the American cultural model, and to suggest some of the ways in which this model has been manipulated and manipulated in recent decades.


Little liars: How do children learn to tell lies?

Kang Lee  Professor & Canada Research Chair Tier 1, University of Toronto

In this talk, I will use scientific evidence from my lab and others about the past two decades to can easily detect children's lies. Furthermore, I will discuss these developments in the future of children in the future.


Face Value: The Irresistible (and misleading) Influence of First Impressions

Alexander Todorov Department of Psychology, Princeton University

Physiognomy - the pseudoscience of reading character from the face - has long been discredited, but we are all naive physiognomists. People form instantaneous impressions from faces, agree on these impressions, and act on these impressions. In the last 10 years, we have introduced data-driven computational methods that allow us to visualize the configurations of these features. That is, we are able to visualize appearance stereotypes. But are these stereotypes accurate? In the last decade, there has been a resurgence of studies claiming that the stereotypes are indeed accurate. But a closer look at the modern studies shows that the claims of the new physiognomy are almost exaggerated as those of the old physiognomy. First, different images of the same person can lead to completely different impressions. Second, our decisions are more accurate if we completely ignore the information and rely on common knowledge. So why do we have first impressions? In our quest to know others and in the absence of good information, we are forced to rely on information. This information could be used as a guide to the intentions and actions of the person, but it is misleading as a guide to the person's character.


What Happened to The News? - Technology, Politics and the Vanishing Truth

Jonathan Mann CNN International anchor

Many Americans believe that the news media intentionally links to them. President Donald Trump is the best-known detractor of "fake news," though he himself has been arrested in recent memory. Former CNN anchor Jonathan Mann will address the issue of overlapping changes in technology, politics and business that have come to grips with national conversation with deception and distrust.


Onions and Identities: Theater and the True Self

Tim McDonough  Theater Studies, Emory University. Resident Artist, Theater Emory

The conflict between truth and deceit, reality and appearance, Drama is densely populated by duplicitous schemers, by power figures which maintains the sociopolitical status quo, and by characters in search of themselves, who is confused and self-deceptions about self. Theater provides a template for understanding identity and insight into several existentially and socially necessary forms of deceit. Excerpts from Hamlet, King Lear, Peer Gynt, Angels in America, and several other plays.


The Science of Magic and the Art of Deception

Alex Stone Professional magician, writer and entertainer, New York City

"Magic takes place in the hands of the magician but in the mind of the spectator." 

-magician's adage

Magic is dramatized deception, lying as performance art, cons as theater. Magicians trick our brains into seeing what is not real, and for whatever reason, our brains let them get away with it. Turns out, you can learn a lot about how the mind works-and why it sometimes doesn't-by looking at how magicians distort our perception. Through a mix of psychology, storytelling, and sleight-of-hand, Stone explores the cognitive underpinnings of misdirection, illusion, scams, and secrecy, pulling back the curtain on the many curious and powerful ways to our deceive us-not just when we 're watching a magician internship his swindles, but throughout our lives.


Co-Sponsored by the Department of Psychology




Friday, October 27, 2017
PAIS 290
1: 00-5: 30 PM

Our ability to teach and learn from each other is a foundational aspect of human nature. It has underpinned the remarkable evolutionary success of our species and remains critical to the fortunes and prospects of modern societies. This CMBC Symposium brings together perspectives from ethnography, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and the sociology of education for a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary investigation of what we have learned about the many ways in which we learn.


Intimate Living, Teaching, and Learning among the Aka and Other Hunter-Gatherers

Barry Hewlett

This talk examines evolutionary, developmental psychology and social-cultural anthropology debates regarding how to learn from others. Cognitive psychologists and evolutionary biologists indicate that teaching, accurate imitation, and language are distinct features of human cognition that enable high fidelity transmission of cultural variants and cumulative culture. The talk examines whether or not one type of teaching, called natural pedagogy, and one type of accurate imitation, called overimiation, exists among Aka hunter-gatherers of the Congo Basin. These and other studies of teaching and learning in hunter-gatherers are presented and situated in the culturally constructed niches of intimate living and foundation schemas of equality, autonomy, and sharing.



Reading Instruction and Building the Neural Circuitry of Literacy

Jason Yeatman

The brain did not evolve specialized circuits for reading. Rather, the process of learning to read and understand the structure and function of this basic academic skill. In other words, education scaffolds the development of the brain's reading circuitry. In this talk, I will first outline the neurobiological underpinnings of literacy and give an overview of how the brain converts symbols. Then I will present new data showing how to read instructions how to change the brain that track the learning process. These data reveal that the anatomical structure of the brain is surprisingly plastic, and that networks of anatomical connections flexibly adapt to meet the demands of a child's learning environment.



Techonological Change, Learning, and Inequality

Cassidy Puckett

A central and consequential feature of technological competence in the digital age is the ability to learn new technologies as they emerge - what I call "digital adaptability." Macro-level research suggests differences in digital adaptability are related to various forms of inequality. However, it is difficult to adapt to macro-level trends in micro-level processes. This study focuses on the gap between definition and measurement of science in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In this presentation, I describe a study in Chicago and a replication study in Boston involving a total of ~ 2,



Learning and Theory Change: A Developmental Perspective

Susan Gelman

One of the most challenging aspects of learning is theory-change - abandoning an old explanatory framework for a new one. When is possible theory change, and when do intuitive theories persist in those who are taught in school? How do children's intuitive theories distort the lessons from school? And what are the (implicit) mechanisms that work to foster or suppress children's intuitive theories? I examine these issues by focusing on two conceptual biases (essentialism and teleology) within different cultural contexts.




February 11 - 12, 2016
Cox Hall Ballroom The
Emory Conference Center Hotel, Great Hearth


Chair:  Laura Namy (Psychology / CMBC, Emory University)


Coming to Terms with Fear” 

Joseph LeDoux (Department of Neuroscience, New York University) 

Research on Pavlovian fear conditioning has been very successful in revealing what has come to be called the “fear system” of the brain.  The field has now matured to the point where a sharper conceptualization of what is being studied could be very useful as we go forward. Terms like “fear conditioning” and “fear system” blur the distinction between processes that give rise to conscious feelings of fear and non-conscious processes that control defense responses elicited by threats. These processes interact but are not the same. This is an important distinction because symptoms based on conscious and non-conscious processes may be vulnerable to different predisposing factors and may also be treatable with different approaches in people who suffer from uncontrolled fear or anxiety. Using terms that respect the distinction will help focus future animal research on brain circuits that detect and respond to threats, and should also help clarify the implications of this work for understanding how normal and pathological feelings of fear come about in the human brain.


Neuroscience Perspectives on Psychological Theories of Emotion

Stephan Hamman (Department of Psychology, Emory University)

 Neuroimaging and other neuroscience approaches have generated a wealth of new findings about the brain correlates of emotion, for example, changes in brain activity patterns corresponding to variations in emotion intensity and type. Such evidence is playing an increasingly important role in debates about the nature and organization of emotion, for example, whether emotions are best represented by a discrete set of emotions such as fear and anger, and the extent to which dedicated, evolutionarily-shaped neural circuits exist for emotion. The talk will focus on exploring new perspectives that neuroimaging has provided on the brain basis of human emotion and psychological emotion theories. Emotion views which propose that individual emotions or affective dimensions map directly onto the function of specific brain regions have long been influential in neuroscience and psychology, yet there is mounting neuroscience evidence that such one-to-one correspondences between structure and function are illusory and that emotions arise from the complex interactions of multiple brain regions. Neuroimaging findings provide clues about how these distributed brain representations create different emotions and how emotion states can be decoded from patterns of brain activity. Key implications of these findings for existing psychological theories of emotion will be discussed, as well as the need to corroborate correlational neuroimaging findings with other approaches that experimentally manipulate brain activity and structure.


Brain Mechanisms Explain Emotion” 

Paul Thagard (Department of Philosophy, Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, University of Waterloo)

Is love a judgment, a body process, or a cultural interpretation?  Emotion theorists dispute whether emotions are cognitive appraisals, responses to physiological changes, or social constructions.   That emotions are all of these can be grasped by identifying brain mechanisms for emotions, including representation by groups of spiking neurons, binding of representations into semantic pointers, and competition among semantic pointers.   Semantic pointers are patterns of firing in groups of neurons that function like symbols while incorporating sensory and motor information that can be recovered.   Emotions are semantic pointers that bind representations of situations, physiology, and appraisal into unified packages that can guide behavior if they outcompete other semantic pointers.   Social and linguistic information is incorporated into cognitive appraisal.   This view of emotions is supported by computer simulations (using Chris Eliasmith’s Semantic Pointer Architecture) that model dynamic appraisal, embodiment,  interaction of physiological input and appraisal, and reasoning about emotions.  Unlike traditional theories, the semantic pointer theory of emotion can also explain why people have conscious experiences such as happiness and sadness.



Chair: Melissa Williams (Goizueta School of Business, Emory University)


Brain Mechanisms in Emotion Regulation

Jocelyne Bachevalier (Department of Psychology / Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University)

Regulation of emotion is important for adaptive social functioning and mental well-being.  It involves the ability to inhibit or modulate primary emotions to produce contextually appropriate emotions and behaviors. The neural networks underlying this regulatory process will be reviewed and discussed.  Particularly, interactions between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex are becoming of major interest in understanding the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and depression. 


A New Perspective on Basic Emotions:  No Selection without Regulation

Andrea Scarantino (Department of Philosophy / Neuroscience Institute, Georgia State University)

The most influential recent challenge to the scientific viability of Basic Emotion Theory (BET) comes from psychological constructionists, who have argued that, contrary to BET’s claims, the empirical data do not support the existence of coordinated packages of biological markers – either in the body or in the brain – associated with candidate basic emotions such as anger, fear, happiness, disgust, etc The take home message of my talk is that the empirical data undermine what I call Traditional BET, but are not fatal to BET as a research program. I will show how a New BET can be formulated so as to answer the constructionist critique. The fundamental novelty is that regulation plays a key role in explaining how basic emotions evolved as solutions to fundamental life tasks, because it allows for the sort of flexible responding shown by the empirical data on variability.



Chair: Lynne Nygaard (Psychology, CMBC, Emory University)


Gender and Emotion in Autobiographical Reminiscing

Robyn Fivush (Department of Psychology, Emory University)

In this presentation, I describe a feminist sociocultural model of autobiographical memory that provides a framework for understanding how gender and emotion are mutually constructed within everyday reminiscing about the personal past. Autobiographical narratives both reflect and create representations of what happened and what it means for the individual in terms of understanding self, others, and relationships.  In particular, emotional expression within autobiographical narratives carries information about what Bruner has called the “internal landscape of consciousness,” focusing on subjective evaluative meaning.  It is therefore especially interesting that females express more emotion in their autobiographical reminiscing than do males and do so across a wide developmental age span and a variety of contexts. Here, I focus on studies of family reminiscing that demonstrate how parents and children discuss emotions within narratives about their shared past and within intergenerational narratives about the parents’ past in ways that re-create gendered identities across the generations.


“Gender Differences in Emotion, Motivation, and Behavior: Can Culture Explain Them All?”

Melvin Konner (Department of Anthropology, Emory University)

Konner will argue, as he did at length in Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy (Norton, 2015), that a current consensus of neural and neuroendocrine research, in the context of neodarwinian sexual selection and phylogenetic, cross-cultural, historical, and psychological perspectives, now suggests that sex differences in some behaviors (notably violence and driven sexuality) and their underlying emotions and motivations require a partly biological explanation. There are no sex differences in general intelligence, or in many measures of cognitive function, skill, motivation, or emotion. Other measures of emotion (for example, the intensity of publicly expressed grief) are strongly influenced by cultural models and show marked cross-cultural variation in the character and degree of gender differences. But the current scientific consensus is that culture (including upbringing, education, models, and media) cannot explain all gender differences in behavior, emotion, and motivation, although it can explain most such differences. Thoughtful people are rightly concerned about the philosophical and political implications of this consensus. Konner will argue that biological facts and perspectives can now be deployed in favor of gender equality rather than against it.



Chair: Timothy Jackson (Candler School of Theology, Emory University)


“Animal Emotions and Empathy”

Frans de Waal (Department of Psychology / Living Links Center / Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University)

Emotions suffuse much of the language employed by students of animal behavior --from "social bonding" to "alarm calls" -- yet are often avoided as explicit topic in scientific discourse. Given the increasing interest of human psychology in the emotions, and the neuroscience on animal emotions such as fear and attachment, the taboo that has hampered animal research in this area is outdated. We need to recall the history of our field in which emotions and instincts were mentioned in the same breath and in which neither psychologists nor biologists felt that animal emotions were off limits. The main point is to separate emotions from feelings, which are subjective experiences that accompany the emotions. Whereas science has no access to animal feelings, animal emotions are as observable and measurable as human emotions. They are mental and bodily states that potentiate behavior appropriate to both social and nonsocial situations. The expression of emotions in face and body language is well known, the study of which began with Darwin. I will discuss early ideas about animal emotions and draw upon research on empathy and the perception of emotions in primates to make the point that the study of animal emotions is a necessary complement to the study of behavior. Emotions are best viewed as the initiators and organizers of adaptive responses to environmental stimuli.


”The Neural Correlates of Human Social Emotions in the Context of Reciprocal Altruism“

Jim Rilling (Department of Anthropology / Program in Neuroscience, Emory University)

In a now classic 1971 paper, Robert Trivers proposed that many human social emotions evolved in response to the need to negotiate relationships based on reciprocal altruism, which were likely crucial to the survival of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In the same paper, he argued that the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game could serve as a model for relationships based on reciprocal altruism. Over the past 15 years, our lab has utilized the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game paradigm in combination with fMRI to investigate the neural bases of human social emotions. We have described 1) neural responses to both reciprocated and unreciprocated cooperation, 2) sex differences in these responses, 3) modulation of these responses by psychopathic personality, 4) modulation of these responses by the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin, and 5) modulation of these responses by oxytocin receptor genotypes. In this talk, I will summarize and synthesize the above research, while also integrating findings from other research groups relevant to understanding the neural bases of human social emotions. 


The Ethics Chicken and Egg: Emotions and Intellect in Determining Moral Action”

Paul Root Wolpe (Emory Center for Ethics / Department of Medicine, Emory School of Medicine / Sociology, Emory University)

Scholarship taking place in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience have begun to illuminate the complex relationship between the emotional and intellectual contributions to our moral thought and behavior.  However, the assumptions often made in the West – that ethical decision-making should be primarily an intellectual exercise, and that emotional contributions are suspect at best and corrupting at worst should be questioned.  The Dalai Lama, for example, has proffered a system he calls “secular ethics” founded on an emotional platform that he believes can be cultivated for better ethical decisions.  Other faiths, such as Judaism, see a rational ethical method as more reliable.  We need to understand the nuances of both means of moral decision making to be able to untangle their mutual, important contribution to ethical expression.



Chair: Dietrich Stout (Anthropology, Emory University)


Origins of Uncanny Self-Conscious Emotions

Philippe Rochat (Department of Psychology, Emory University)

Self-consciousness and self-conscious emotions are hallmark characteristics of human psychology, a gift and curse from Nature. It is a gift because it allows us to be incomparably creative. It is a curse because it determines uncanny conscious experiences such as the inescapable awareness of impending self-disappearance (death).  I will argue that the fear of separation and the basic affiliation need we share with other animals is for us combined with unmatched preoccupations with reputation, self-preoccupation, and the constant gauging of the self through the evaluative eyes of others. This combination leads to an uncanny capacity for self-delusions, misunderstandings, lies, and other duplicities that are also the trademark of human self-conscious psychology.   I illustrate the emergence of such psychology by presenting some empirical observations collected in recent years on the uncanny mirror self-experience of young children across cultures, social conformity and the emerging sense of sharing as well as material ownership by young children in the US and around the world.   I will conclude with the speculation that universally, as children become self-conscious (in the sense proposed here), they develop the potential for guilt and lies, both signs of emerging moral awareness and the source of new uncanny self-conscious emotions like pride, shame, and envy, all by-products of human self-conscious psychology. 


The Bodily and Cultural Roots of Metaphors for Obnoxious Emotions

Laura Otis (Department of English, Emory University)

Some human emotions are so unloved that few people admit to feeling them. In Western cultures, these include self-pity, resentment, spite, hate, envy, and grudge-bearing. Metaphors for these “banned” emotions reveal their grounding in bodily sensations and postures. At the same time, religious and political beliefs have shaped the ways that these unsavory emotions are represented. To offer insight into the merging forces of culture and physiology, this presentation examines metaphors for “banned” emotions in a tradition that links religious allegories, such as The Inferno and Pilgrim’s Progress, with self-help books such as Emotional Intelligence and Who Moved My Cheese? The families of metaphors used to represent unloved emotions play roles in classic literary works like Great Expectations and Notes from the Underground, but they can also be seen in scientific studies of emotions and in popular films like Bridesmaids. The representation of emotions is a political issue, since not everyone agrees about which emotions should be expressed and how. Emotions that seem obnoxious to one person may be experienced by another as essential to his or her sense of self.



Chair:  Richard Patterson (Philosophy /Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Emory University)


Processing Emotions Musically

Don Saliers (Candler School of Theology, Emory University)

This paper begins by setting out several important theories of how music is claimed to “express” human emotions.  An inevitable comparison follows with how human emotions are linguistically constituted and expressed.   This, in turn, highlights the complexity of musical “syntax” and “grammar” as well as the limits of language—or at least the limits of “cognitive” theories of emotion. Contrasting examples of music will be drawn from Bach, Copeland and Art Tatum’s jazz piano.  I will conclude with some threshold questions about how neuropsychology may contribute to our understanding of relations between music and human emotion.


Emotion as Danger: Trigger Warnings and Dangerous Prose

Jim Grimsley (Department of Creative Writing, Emory University)

The phenomenon of trigger warnings, intended to help guide students in dealing with the emotions raised by difficult or provocative works of art, indicates the ability of artistic works to raise powerful and even cathartic feelings in members of the audience. The author will discuss the use and abuse of these warnings in relation to works of fiction.




A Peripheral Immune Response to Fear: How the Body Informs the Mind

Matthew B. Young Yerkes National Primate Research Center / Emory University

Both the brain and the immune system use memory systems to protect an organism from previously encountered threats. Bi-directional communication between the brain and immune system has long been appreciated. However, the role of the immune system in the fear response has not been well studied. Using Pavlovian fear conditioning in mice, we demonstrate that the fear response to remembering an aversive experience consists of a peripheral proinflammatory component. Moreover, this proinflammatory response appears to contribute to how well the fear memory is maintained after it is remembered. We hypothesize that, like the brain, the immune system forms memories for traumatic experiences, and that both the immune system is an important part of maintaining avoidance memories.

Aesthetic Neuroscience 

Rose L. Routh  Comparative Literature / Emory University       

I plan to create a poster in which neuroscience/cognitive psychology must rely solely on a visual platform in order to portray the form of emotionally neural functions. This will entail a variety of methods in creating a depiction of the human emotional state (hopefully coming together to provide a united but multifarious aesthetic result), probably relying foremost on facial expression, the key 'window' to the emotions that we think of when we imagine the perception of feeling. This abstract will be a work in progress as I attempt to clarify my objectives as I work on the poster, as it would be problematic to summarize a visual representation of the mind in any capacity before actually beginning and seeing where the pencil or paintbrush leads me.

Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) for Medical Students: A Pilot Study       

Sean W. Kelley  Department of Anthropology / Emory University

For medical school students, the stress of academic demands coupled with compassion fatigue impairs the social emotions that are a core aspect of physician competence. Few academic courses or interventions have proven successful for enhancing physicians’ empathy and compassion in ways that persevere in the face of suffering and enable sustained caretaker well-being. The proposed study is designed to (1) investigate the feasibility of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) for medical school students, and (2) test whether CBCT, a class designed and proven to enhance empathy, will decrease anxiety and depression, enhance compassion, and improve daily functioning in medical school students. Second year medical school students were randomized to either receive 10 weeks of training in CBCT or to a wait-list control group. Prior to, and again after the training, students were assessed using self-report measures of compassion, loneliness, negative emotional states, and sleep, substance use, and exercise. Compared to the wait-list group, students randomized to CBCT reported increased compassion, decreased loneliness and depression, and improved sleep. Changes in compassion were most robust in individuals reporting high levels of depression, suggesting that CBCT may benefit medical students by breaking the link between decreased personal well-being and a concomitant drop in compassion. 

Consoling behavior in the prairie vole: neurobiology and basis in empathy        

James P. Burkett  Center for Translational Social Neuroscience /  Emory University         

Consolation toward distressed others is common in humans and great apes, yet our ability to explore the biological mechanisms underlying this behavior is limited by its apparent absence in laboratory animals. Here we provide empirical evidence that a rodent species, the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), greatly increases partner-directed grooming toward familiar conspecifics (but not strangers) that have experienced an unobserved stressor, providing social buffering. Prairie voles also match the fear response, anxiety-related behaviors, and corticosterone increase of the stressed cagemate, suggesting an empathy mechanism. Exposure to the stressed cagemate increases activity in anterior cingulate cortex, and oxytocin receptor antagonist infused into this region abolishes the partner-directed response, showing conserved neural mechanisms between prairie vole and human. This research provides the first demonstration that consolation can be observed and studied in laboratory animals.

Trauma-Informed Emotion Regulation Skills Training for Homeless Women, Youth, and Children in Atlanta

Linda Grabbe School of Nursing / Emory University   

Homeless individuals deal with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, developmental trauma, substance abuse, and dissociative disorders, but may receive little or no medical or psychiatric care.  Often, due to ingrained survival responses from early childhood abuse and neglect, these persons experience a disconnection from a sense of self or the body itself, and emotion dysregulation, which can impair everyday functioning and social relationships.  Self-destructive behaviors such as cutting, suicidality, and addiction often result.  Two emotion regulation training interventions with homeless populations are currently underway in Atlanta in a collaboration between Emory School of Nursing and the Community Advanced Practice Nurses Clinic, a free primary care, nurse practitioner-led clinic for homeless and uninsured individuals.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills training (Linehan, 2014) and/or the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) skills training (Miller-Karas, 2015) are two low-intensity emotion regulation interventions currently being delivered to these populations in group formats.   These trainings provide tools to cope with stress, trauma, and emotional triggers.  Such skills may improve resilience and the ability to live a fulfilled life. DBT skills training is an evidence-based cognitive-behavioral model; CRM is less widely known, but is a research-informed, somatically-based set of skills to stabilize the nervous system.  The DBT skills foster distress tolerance, emotion regulation, interpersonal skills, and mindfulness.  CRM skills consist of 6 easily-learned sensory-motor methods to widen one’s “resilience zone” or to return to this zone after being “bumped out “into hyper- or hypo-arousal states.  Our research will be presented, as well as a new plan for pre- and post-test measures of anger, anxiety, depression, somatic complaints, resilience, and well-being.  Challenges to working with a transitory, distressed, and unstable population will be described.

Changes in Autonomic Arousal Elicited by Human Amygdala Stimulation Are Parameter-Dependent    

Cory S. Inman Neurosurgery / Emory University          

The amygdala, located within the medial temporal lobe, regulates emotional responses, motivation, and memory. However, few contemporary studies have used direct electrical stimulation of the amygdala in humans to examine stimulation-elicited physiological and emotional changes, and the nature of such effects remains unclear. To determine the effects of amygdala stimulation on acute autonomic physiology, we utilized epilepsy patients undergoing intracranial EEG monitoring in which depth electrodes were implanted surgically from a lateral temporal approach into unilateral or bilateral amygdala. Subjects underwent either sham or acute monopolar electrical stimulation at various parameters in electrode contacts located in either amygdala or within the lateral temporal cortex. Stimulation was applied at either 50 Hz (pulse width of 300 msec) or 130 Hz (pulse width of 90 msec), while amplitudes were increased from lower (4 <= mV) to higher (>4 mV, 12 mV maximum) amplitudes in a stepwise fashion, with subjects blinded to stimulation condition. Varying pulse widths for each frequency were chosen to balance the charge density delivered across frequencies. Skin conductance responses (SCR), respiratory rate, heart rate, and electromyographic Hoffman-reflex amplitudes, and video images were recorded. At stimulation amplitudes well below patients' subjective awareness of stimulation, and without eliciting any seizures, we found that increasing linear, dose-responsive stimulation effects, with higher-amplitude amygdala stimulation (but not lateral control or sham stimulation) eliciting rapid and significant heart rate deceleration and increasing skin-conductance. This pattern of results parallels stimulation findings with animals and is consistent with orienting/defensive physiological responses observed with aversive visual stimuli. Notably, all the described physiological effects were observed below thresholds in which patients reported being conscious of stimulation or changes in mood. Such changes occurred only at higher stimulation amplitudes. In a subsequent experiment, ongoing emotional responses to emotional videos were also not interrupted by amygdala stimulation. More intense stimulation may be required to elicit subjective emotional responses such as fear that have been reported previously. In summary, these findings suggest that acute amygdala stimulation in humans is safe and can reliably elicit changes in emotion physiology without significantly affecting subjective emotional experience providing a useful paradigm for investigation of amygdala-mediated modulatory effects.

Emory   Affective Bias: Tracking Stimulation Changes in Deep Brain Stimulation for Treatment-Refractory Depression. 

Kelly R. Bijanki  Department of Psychiatry / Emory University     

Background: Depressed patients show emotional bias where ambiguous or positive events are perceived as negative. The effect is especially pronounced in the rating of emotional facial expressions. Depression and alteration in emotional biasing are associated with abnormal activity in a network including the medial prefrontal cortex and the subcallosal cingulate; deep brain stimulation (DBS) to the subcallosal cingulate is shown to normalize activity in these regions.   Methods: A patient receiving DBS to the subcallosal cingulate for treatment-refractory depression completed blinded, sham-controlled discontinuation experiments following 6-month chronic DBS therapy completed an affective bias task, requiring her to rate the intensity and valence of emotional facial expressions presented on a computer screen. The patient completed the task daily during a week of stimulation-OFF, followed by a week of stimulation-ON. Results: Ratings of emotional facial expressions during the affective bias task revealed a significant negative bias that developed immediately after stimulation was turned off, which was reduced immediately following reinstantiation of stimulation. T-tests across all ratings for all OFF vs. ON blocks indicated a significant difference (ON mean =.4548, OFF mean = .4410; t = 4.802, df = 8, p = .001). In addition, a significant immediate drop in ratings was detected 18 minutes after stimulation was turned OFF, (t = -2.330, df = 53, p = .024), showing that negative bias returned immediately when stimulation was discontinued.  Discussion: The current findings suggest that the affective bias task may be a useful outcome measure to rapidly detect stimulation-induced fluctuations in mood.  Effects of antidepressant treatments typically require several weeks to become clinically apparent, whether examined in the context of medications or neuromodulatory treatments. The immediacy of shifts in affective bias make it an attractive outcome measure for experimentation and clinical trials of neuromodulatory therapies for depression.

The Developmental Trajectory of Emotion Effects on Subsequent Memory: Evidence from Brain and Behavior   

Anais F. Stenson Department of Psychology / Emory University     

Adults remember emotional events better than neutral events. This emotional memory enhancement (EME) effect appears in behavioral and neural measures. Children as young as 5 respond to emotion during encoding, yet EME effects on subsequent memory might emerge only later in childhood (Leventon, Stevens, & Bauer, 2014). To map emotion effects on memory across development, we examined EME effects in 8-10, 11-13, and 14-16-year-olds by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) and behavioral responses while participants viewed positive, negative, and neutral photographs. Two weeks later, we tested old/new recognition. Behavioral performance indicated robust EME effects. Corrected recognition performance (proportion of hits minus false alarms) differed significantly between emotions (F(2,176)=79.6, p<.001) but not age groups (F(2,88)=.15, p=.86). For correctly remembered pictures, ERPs in an early post-stimulus window (150-350 ms) differed significantly between age groups (F(2,71)=3.56, p=.03), but not emotions (F(2,142)=.406, p=.67). In contrast, late ERPs (1000-1500ms) differed significantly between emotions (F(2,142)=7.01, p=.001), but not age groups (F(2, 71)=.892, p=.414). Together, behavioral performance and the late ERP data suggest that the EME effect is largely consistent from childhood through the teenage years. However, age differences in the early ERPs indicate that the temporal dynamics of emotion processing continue to develop throughout this period. These findings contribute to the limited research on the developmental course of emotion’s influence on memory. Forthcoming analyses will investigate how neural responses differ according to memory performance, emotion, age, time window, and recording site. Together, these data will provide insight into the developmental trajectory of emotional effects on memory. 

Affective Transformation, Emotion, and Embodied Narrative: The Emergence of Memory, Self and the World with the Material Environment 

Liv G. Nilsson Stutz Department of Anthropology / Emory University    
Aaron J. Stutz 
Division of History and Social Sciences / Oxford College of Emory University

The somatic dynamics of affective transformations form episodic embodied narratives (EENs), which mediate memory formation, learning, bodily competence, and agency in ongoing interaction with our material surroundings. EENs are suggested to be mapped, simulated, and recalled through forebrain neural networks, as they are associatively reinforced or forgotten. Emotional elements of embodied narratives can constitute reliable sensory-motor markers of affective change. Continuous body-environment coupling in humans is not simply mediated by affect per se, but also by embodied narratives. Recursively embedded EENs can support endurance bouts of selective attention in technological production, social interaction, travelling, play, and ritual. Thus, affective transformations in humans develop “enchronically,” emerging into iconic bodily stories.  Here we take a joint biocultural and material culture perspective. We argue that embodied, implicit judgment narratives are further associated with the material environment over longer periods, through memory formation and intermittent evocation. Our material culture surroundings co-evolve with socio-somatic practices. Marked by an emotional narrative “plot,” EENs shape and sustain our attention and engagement in our socio-material milieu. At the same time, material culture settings frame and evoke EENs. In our socially intense, materially structured lives, the experience of EENs—in self and other, evoked from memory, from fantasy, or forming in the present—critically drives self-organization of subtle, complex material culture environments, structuring more manageable, iconic genres of embodied narrative experience. We propose that the staging of affective transformation is important and shapes embodied memory experience in everyday life and ritual practice. Thus, affective embodied narrative created actively in these situations can shape life later on. While these experiences tend to reproduce hegemonic structures, affective transformations can also be used as a strategic way to act to resist such hegemonic structures as will be showed through the example of illicit material culture from Ravensbrück.

Neighborhood Quality Moderates the Affective Consequences of Conscientiousness

Chris C. Martin   Department of Sociology / Emory University     

Conscientiousness is a beneficial trait that predicts greater positive emotions, but its consequences could vary in unsafe neighborhoods. Highly conscientious people in these neighborhoods may overexert themselves, abstain from stress relief, and feel greater frustration about unemployment. On the other hand, they may also have less risk of crime victimization. Using data from a large representative sample of U.S. adults, we tested for differential effects of conscientiousness by neighborhood type. In unsafe neighborhoods, we found that conscientiousness has a J-shaped association with positive affect (PA), whereas in safe neighborhoods, conscientiousness has a typical, linear effect. Conscientiousness appeared to reduce negative affect (NA) more strongly in unsafe neighborhoods, but effects were linear across neighborhood type. The presence of a J-shaped effect suggests that, in unsafe neighborhoods, conscientiousness must be above a certain threshold to have effects on life satisfaction and PA. 

The Impact of Compassion Training on Medical Student Well-Being and Immune Function

 Jennifer S. Mascaro  Center for the Study of Human Health / Emory University

For medical school students, the stress of academic demands coupled with compassion fatigue impairs the social emotions that are a core aspect of physician competence. Few academic courses or interventions have proven successful for enhancing physician empathy and compassion in ways that persist in the face of suffering and that enable sustained caretaker well-being. The proposed study is designed to (1) investigate the feasibility of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) for medical school students, and (2) test whether CBCT, a class designed and shown to enhance empathy, will decrease anxiety and depression, enhance compassion, and improve daily functioning in medical school students. To this end, second year medical school students were randomized to either receive 10 weeks of training in CBCT or to a wait-list control group. Prior to, and again after the training, students were assessed using self-report measures of compassion, loneliness, negative emotional states, and sleep, substance use, and exercise. In addition, a saliva sample was collected to assay immune function. Baseline assessments were used to determine whether CBCT was more beneficial for specific subsets of medical school students, or conversely, whether particular sub-groups were less amenable to CBCT. Compared to the wait-list group, students randomized to CBCT reported increased compassion, decreased loneliness and depression, and improved sleep. Effects were most robust in individuals reporting high levels of depression and inflammation at the beginning of the study, suggesting that CBCT may benefit those most in need by breaking the link between personal suffering and the concomitant drop in compassion.

Physiologies of Emotion in Tibetan Medicine: Diagnostic Links of Emotional and Physical Pathways

Tawni Tidwell  Department of Anthropology / Emory University         

A medical system with over 1,500 years of experience linking mental, emotional and physical attributes into cohesive manifestations of symptom clusters, Tibetan medicine tracks physiologies of emotion in health and disease for nearly every illness within Tibetan medicine. What may be considered an exclusively physical illness in Western medicine, always would be considered by Tibetan medicine to have emotional and mental aspects that accompany the more grossly recognized physical aspects within the symptomology.  Western medicine classically ascribes abnormal mental and emotional characteristics to mental illnesses and classifies physical ailments exclusively from physical symptoms.  This approach overlooks increasingly well documented interactions of emotions and mental factors with manifold physiological pathways.  Indeed, the illness categories within Tibetan medicine that are defined largely in terms of mental symptoms, such as mania, schizophrenia, seizures, epilepsy, are but a small subset of illness categories.  Even these are not considered to comprise exclusively mental symptoms, but have significant physical symptoms and physiologies as part of their illness signature as well.  Thus, Tibetan medicine recognizes no illness category that is either exclusively “mental” or “physical”, but all have intertwined processes.  Therefore, what Western medicine recognizes as mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, are in Tibetan medicine associated with diagnostic physical symptomologies as well.  As such, Tibetan medicine provides a lens for understanding how emotion somatically manifests in the body and how bodily experiences — constitutionally and pathologically — in turn influence experienced emotional content.  This poster explores the physiologies of emotion in Tibetan medicine as they are traced through the body along Tibetan medical pathways.  

Designing Emotional Prosthetics with Affective Brain-Computer Interfaces        

Angela V. Vujic   Human Computer Interaction / College of Computing / Georgia Institute of Technology 

Facial expressions significantly contribute to emotional expression. Individuals with facial paralysis caused by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), strokes, and other conditions have difficulty expressing emotion and may rely on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology for computerized text or speech. Though it is one of the AAC user’s “deepest interests to express emotions the same way as everybody else,” facial emotional expression has received limited attention in AAC research. Additionally, AACs have been shown to strain an individual’s emotional regulation and emotional competence, leading to difficulties in forming relationships. Here, promising affective brain-computer interface (aBCI) research and user requirements research are used to present designs for emotional prosthetics: wearable technology that non-invasively gathers electric neurophysiological signals, extracts emotional state by passing signals through machine-learning based algorithms, and provides the option to voluntarily express a corresponding facial expression to conversation partners by a discreet facial exoskeleton or projected display. The future of this technology can contribute to our understanding of ecologically expressed emotions in the field of affective neuroscience, provide opportunities for facial muscle rehabilitation, and allow individuals with paralysis to feel included, noticed, and valuable to improve relationships with caretakers, friends, and family.

Sonification of Emotion and Sublime Listening Experiences        

R. Michael Winters  Music Technology  / Georgia Institute of Technology    

Sonification of Emotion (SoE) is a new field of research targeting the use of sound as a medium for display in affective computing. Sound and music are rich sources for cues of emotion, and can target many levels of cognition and neurophysiology with various time-spans, all without requiring the use of vision. As a practice of sonification, this field especially concerns itself with the low-level acoustic cues that can objectively and repeatably carry emotional meaning with low-time span for recognition.  To demonstrate, a sonification of emotion is presented allowing users to navigate a circumplex emotion space and hear a continuous emotion sonification mapping.  Other work will be presented as well, especially those related to sublime or profound emotions that are created through sonifications of dynamic processes inconceivably large and transfinitely powerful.  Arousing these emotions through sonification triggers a popular interest, which under the right circumstances can be a strong pedagogical experience as well. 

The MSCEIT Misses the Mark: Emotional Intelligence is a Practical Ability           

Razia S. Sahi  Department of Philosophy / Georgia State University        

In recent years, researchers have been greatly interested in how differences in abilities to perceive, understand, and regulate emotions influence personal well-being and life success.  In investigating these interpersonal differences, researchers coined the term “emotional intelligence” to refer to the capacity to reason about emotions and use emotions to assist reasoning.  Although researchers lack consensus on the construct of emotional intelligence, or EI, the practical ability to regulate one’s emotions in order to produce constructive responses to one’s environment seems to be an essential feature of EI and arguably the most important feature in predicting personal well-being and life success.  This paper draws attention to the practical feature of EI by evaluating a popular ability-based measure of the construct: the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, or MSCEIT (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, 2002).  Despite widespread controversy surrounding the validity of emotional intelligence tests and the conceptions of emotional intelligence that they rely on, many organizations are currently using the MSCEIT to predict workplace performance (Zeider, Matthews, Roberts, 2004).  It is argued that the MSCEIT lacks validity as a measure of EI in so far as it fails to capture its essential practical feature.  In support of this argument, it is claimed that the MSCEIT (a) relies too heavily on participants’ knowledge of a particular set of social norms and the consensual interpretation of emotional information, (b) does not account for participants’ relevant interpersonal differences, and (c) does not measure one’s ability to reason about emotions when one’s emotions are involved.  The MSCEIT may to some extent measure emotional knowledge, or knowledge about emotions, but when it comes to measuring emotional intelligence the MSCEIT misses the mark.

How Cultural Differences in Communication and Emotion Expression Fortify the "Bamboo Ceiling"

Sarah Lee  Goizueta Business School / Emory University  

Cultural psychology literature suggests that, relative to the dominant White culture, Asian Americans have different norms (e.g., modesty versus expressiveness, negative emotion display) and different engagement with American English, due to more recent immigration. Yet evidence for cultural artifacts manifesting these differences is limited, particularly for within-U.S. samples. We tested whether cultural differences would be observable in Asian and White Americans’ non-accented, naturalistic speech, using a sample of amateur YouTube videos. Results supported predictions that Asian (versus White) American speakers would be less self-expressive (e.g., fewer words spoken per minute of video), would express more negativity (e.g., more negative-emotion words), and would be less at ease with American English (e.g., fewer words over six letters, more fillers such as “you know”). This project provides evidence that Asian Americans’ cultural and immigrant experiences manifest in naturalistic speech, with implications for Asian Americans’ social progress within the dominant culture.

Creativity & Arts at Emory Healthcare   

Candy Tate  Center for Creativity & Arts / Emory University

I would like to submit our work with the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) exhibit titled ""The Spirit Lives On: Art, Music and the Mind."" We worked with patients and caregivers to engage them in photography, painting, and drawing. We also hosted a music performance at the Schwartz Center featuring the Atlanta Music Choral and the Morehouse Glee Club for a matinee performance for patients, caregivers, and the community.  The Center for Creativity & Arts also works with Winship Cancer Center to bring the arts to Patient Appreciation Week.   

The Perfect Colonizer: Understanding Alcoholism and its Treatments in Native America through Humanistic Inquiry     

Kevin P. McPherson Institute of the Liberal Arts / Emory University  

According to the Indian Health Services, the rate of alcoholism among Native Americans is six times higher than the U.S. average, while one in every ten Native American deaths are a result of some alcohol related cause. Even before colonization, alcohol and its consumption were depicted in many trading exchanges between early settlers and Native Americans. In present day, alcohol has presented itself as a problem to Native Americans: commonly known by many as the “perfect colonizer” one which “has no conscience [and] shows no remorse for the modern-day holocaust for which it has caused.” The current study seeks to answer the following questions: with Native Americans being intimately tied to alcohol via history, stigma, and disease prevalence, why do Native Americans hold the belief that alcohol is the “perfect colonizer”? And, on the auxiliary, why are modern treatments (e.g., AA’s 12 Step Process) ineffective in treating alcoholism in Native populations? Through various modes of humanistic inquiry, probing philosophy, film, and modern-day intervention techniques, we have found that the model to understanding alcoholism is illustrated via a three-column system, holding up the definition of alcoholism as the “perfect colonizer.”

Stress Modulation of Alcohol Consumption and Anxiety-Like Behavior in Specially Bred Alcohol-Preferring Rats             

Tadd B. Patton  Psychological Sciences / Augusta University   

Abstract: Anxiety disorders are often co-morbid with alcohol use disorders (AUDs). Previous research has implicated dysregulation of plasticity-related events in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) with anxiety disorders and alcohol dependence. However, the exact role this dysregulation plays in the comorbidity of these disorders is not well understood. The experiments conducted here were part of a larger study aimed at understanding the neuropathological characteristics present when anxiety disorders and AUDs coexist. We examined anxiety-like behaviors of rats bred to consume large or small quantities of ethanol before and after exposure to a stressful stimulus. All animals were then euthanized so that the brains could be examined for activation of plasticity-related genes in the PFC. Significant differences in alcohol consumption and anxiety-like behaviors were observed between alcohol-preferring rats. In addition, we present preliminary results of brain activity. These findings are discussed in relation to drinking alcohol as a means to reduce anxiety.       


April 8 - 9, 2016
Grace Crum Rollins and Claudia Nance Rollins Buildings
Rollins School of Public Health

The conference featured a keynote by Dr. Ellen Samuels, whose recent book, Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race, charts a course through literary analysis, the history of law and public policy, scientific tracts, and more to shed light on our modern perceptions of the solidity of social categories like race, gender, and disability. Guided seminars were available with seminal thinkers on questions of identity and representation, including Dr. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Dr. Sander Gilman, Dr. Sherman James, Dr. Hannah Cooper, Dr. Dabney Evans, Dr. Abigail Sewell, Dr. Deboleena Roy, and more. The conference culminated in a performance by Full Radius Dance, an Atlanta-based physically integrated professional dance company.  More information is available at

Sponsored by the Program in Science & Society; the Departments of Film, Theater, Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, History, French & Italian, English, Behavioral Science and Health Education, Neuroscience & Behavioral Biology; by the Office of the Provost, Laney Graduate School's New Thinkers New Leaders Fund, the Hightower Fund, the Graduate Student Council, Rollins School of Public Health, Visual Scholarship Initiative, Global & Postcolonial Studies, the Disability Studies Initiative, the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, the Psychoanalytic Studies Program, the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, and the James Weldon Johnson Institute.



April 12, 2016

Carlos Museum Reception Hall

Emory University


Erin Hecht (Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University)

From Action Perception to Tool Making: Adaptations to Fronto-Parietal Circuits in Human Brain Evolution 

ABSTRACT:  Chimpanzee stone tool use has remained essentially unchanged for at least 4300 years. In that time, humans have gone from the Bronze Age to Pluto. How have we so drastically outpaced our closest living relatives? What is it about the human brain that makes us faster and more prolific social learners, better at innovating upon socially learned actions, and capable of producing rapidly-evolving cumulative culture with products like complex technology and language? This talk will discuss adaptations to the neural circuitry for observing and reproducing others’ hand-object actions, and how the elaboration of this basic functionality may have supported the emergence of more complex capacities. Comparative neuroimaging studies have uncovered some properties of frontoparietal circuits that are likely common to all primates, some shared by humans and chimpanzees, and some unique to our species. Experimental archaeology research provides a window on human evolution after we diverged from our primate relatives, including how individual brains are forced to change in order to acquire the skills that were important selective pressures in our evolutionary history, like symbolic communication and toolmaking. Together, these lines of research suggest an evolutionary trend toward elaboration in dorsal-stream, “vision-for-action” circuitry. These changes seem tuned to support increased integration of hierarchical conceptualizations of action goals with concrete kinematic, proprioceptive, and spatio-temporal details – a function which would be increasingly important during the evolution of behaviors where complex sequences of fine motor actions are acquired via social transmission, as occurs in language, gesture, and tool use. 

BIO: Much of my work has focused on comparative neuroimaging of frontoparietal circuits. This has included structural imaging of connections between brain regions (DTI) and functional imaging of how these regions respond during action and perception (FDG-PET). I have been comparing the brains of modern macaques, chimpanzees, and humans in order to determine how behavioral differences between these species may be related to differences in brain structure and function, and in order to extrapolate the evolutionary trajectories of our extinct primate ancestors. In particular, I am interested in species differences in frontoparietal circuits which could relate to the evolution of action understanding, social learning, and tool use, all of which are proposed to have been related to the evolution of language.

Atsushi Iriki (Riken Brain Research Institute, Wakō, Japan) 

How Human Intelligence May Have Evolved in the Primate Brain 

ABSTRACT:  Hominin evolution has involved a continuous process of addition of new kinds of cognitive capacity, including those relating to manufacture and use of tools and to the establishment of linguistic faculties. The dramatic expansion of the brain that accompanied additions of new functional areas would have supported such continuous evolution. Extended brain functions would have driven rapid and drastic changes in the hominin ecological niche, which in turn demanded further brain resources to adapt to it. In this way, humans have constructed a novel niche in each of the ecological, cognitive and neural domains, whose interactions accelerated their individual evolution through a process of triadic niche construction. Human higher cognitive activity can therefore be viewed holistically as one component in a terrestrial ecosystem. The primate brain’s functional characteristics seem to play a key role in this triadic interaction. And I will further advance a speculative argument about the origins of its neurobiological mechanisms, as an extension (with wider scope) of the evolutionary principles of adaptive function in the animal nervous system. The brain mechanisms that subserve tool use may bridge the gap between gesture and language — the site of such integration seems to be the parietal and extending opercular cortices. 

BIO:  Atsushi Iriki received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Tokyo Medical and Dental University in 1986. He held research associate positions at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and then at The Rockefeller University (USA). He joined the faculty of Toho University Medical School as an assistant professor and then as an associate professor in Physiology (1991-1999). In 1999, he returned to Tokyo Medical and Dental University as a full professor and chairman of Cognitive Neurobiology. Atsushi IRIKI is now a Head of Laboratory for Symbolic Cognitive Development at RIKEN Brain Science Institute since 2004. He is currently a visiting professor of Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), an adjunct professor of Keio University, a research professor of Kyoto University, and the president and CEO of RIKÆNALYSIS Corporation (RIKEN Venture, Tokyo). 

Virginia Volterra (Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, Rome) 

Developmental Evidence on Continuity from Action to Gesture, to Sign and Word 

ABSTRACT: All humans regardless of their hearing status or the modality of the linguistic input to which they are exposed make use of gestures to communicate from infancy. Various studies conducted in our lab on the emergence of the gestures in infancy have highlighted the existence of a close link between early action schemes and the appearance of linguistic communication: meanings that infants initially ‘practice’ with/without object manipulation are likely to enter their communicative repertoires as representational gestures and/or words. Furthermore, despite cultural and linguistic differences in frequency of use, representational techniques for depicting information about objects and events have been shown to share a common cognitive basis recruited by both gestural systems and language. For example the distinction between representing an object and representing how you handle or use an object is made across gesture and sign, languages and cultures. My contribution will offer a review of major works conducted in our laboratory on the early stages of development exploring the emergence of the gesture-language system in infancy and its evolution toward adulthood. Studies include actions and gestures produced by hearing children as well as gestures and signs produced by deaf children exposed to a sign language input. Considering recent developmental data I will describe and define the gradual transition from action to gesture to speech with occurs in infancy and is comparable to human evolutionary history, according to which the medium of language gradually shifted from a manual-visual system to a vocal-acoustic one. 

BIO:  Since the beginning of my career at the Institute of Psychology of Italy’s National Research Council (now Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies), my research has focused on the role of gesture in language acquisition and development. During our early years (from 1975 to 1993) our research was primarily focused on very early stages of language acquisition (i.e. considering children between 9 and 18 months). This age-range characterized most of our studies on the role of gestures in language development, conducted in strong collaboration with Elizabeth Bates and centered on the continuity from action to gesture to word. During a second phase (from 1994 to 2007) we moved on to consider older age groups, analyzing the interplay of gestures and words while focusing on action gestures and their link with co-speech gestures in naming or narratives. More recently (from 2007 up until to today) we have conducted extensive research on children exposed to sign language (SL), extending methods used in SL studies to the analysis of gestures produced by hearing children and exploring the continuity from action to gesture, to sign. 

Richard Byrne (University of St. Andrews, Scotland) 

Bridging the Gap: Gestural Communication of the Great Apes 

ABSTRACT:  The evolution of human language presents the greatest challenge for cognitive biology. Language is accepted as our most critical cognitive ability; and it is just too complex to have evolved in a single step, so precursors shared with non-human primates are to be expected. Researchers have largely focused on primate vocalizations, with most work carried out on monkeys: intense effort over the last 50 years has revealed many fascinating and subtle uses of monkey calls, but what is almost entirely missing is any evidence that a calling monkey's goal is to influence a particular audience. In contrast, human language is deeply intentional, as Paul Grice first pointed out: language is used with intent to influence the behaviour and minds of others. Against this background, the discovery that great ape gestures are used intentionally is exciting: there is now abundant evidence that apes give gestures in order to produce specific effects in particular audiences. Ape gestures ‘bridge the gap’ between animal signals and human language. I will explain some of the findings from recent studies of gesture in chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans, both in captivity and under natural conditions in the field. Particular emphasis will be given to what gestures mean; whether series of gestures have syntactic structure, in which the meaning depends on the organization; and how ape repertoires of gesture develop: are they acquired culturally by imitation, or what? A picture is emerging of a communication system with puzzling properties, whose eventual decipherment will give a solid basis for understanding how the ‘great leap’ of acquiring language took place.

BIO:  Richard Byrne studies the evolution of cognitive and social behaviour, particularly the origins of distinctively human characteristics. Current projects focus on the gestural communication of the great apes, and on the social cognition of the African elephant. Previous work has included tactical deception in primates and its relationship to brain size and intelligence, welfare-related studies of cognition in the domestic pig, and the analysis of social learning and imitation. Professor Byrne was awarded the British Psychology Society Book Award 1997 for his O.U.P. monograph The Thinking Ape. 

Funding provided by the ABLE Project (Action, Brain, Language and Evolution); Emory Conference Center Subvention Fund; Center for Mind, Brain and Culture; and Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods.

FALL 2015

NEUROSCIENCE WORKSHOP: Dimensionality Reduction Methods

October 30 -  31, 2015


Gordon Berman 
Emory University

Compressing Animal Behavior.
Animals perform a complex array of behaviors, from changes in body posture to vocalizations to other dynamic outputs. Far from being a disordered collection of actions, however, there is thought to be an intrinsic structure to the set of behaviors and their temporal and functional organization. In this talk, I will introduce a novel method for mapping the behavioral space of organisms. This method relies only upon the underlying structure of postural movement data to organize and classify behavior, eschewing ad hoc behavioral definitions entirely and effectively compressing the vast amounts of data being collected. Applying this method to videos of freely-behaving fruit flies (D. melanogaster), I will show that the organisms’ behavioral repertoire consists of a hierarchically-organized set of stereotyped behaviors. This hierarchical patterning results in the emergence of long time scales of memory in the system, providing insight into the mechanisms of behavioral control over that occur over seconds, minutes, hours, days, and the entire lifetime of the fly. Lastly, I will show the generality of this approach to behavioral analysis — specifically its applicability to other species, alternative behavioral modalities, and high-throughput screens investigating the underlying neurobiology and genetics of behavior.

Chris Rozell 
Data Signal Processing
Georgia Institute of Technology

Dimensionality Reduction as a Model of Efficient Coding in the Visual Pathway
The engineering and applied math communities often exploit the fact that natural stimuli have significant structure that lends itself well to dimensionality reduction. The efficient coding hypothesis for sensory neural coding postulates that stages of neural processing should sequentially make the representations more efficient by removing stimulus redundancies, and this is often expressed in the language of information theory. In this talk I will present our work exploring efficient coding models of vision based on dimensionality reduction, including sparsity, low-rank matrix factorizations and random projections. I will show that such approaches are able to account for many observed properties in visual cortex, including classical receptive fields, response properties based on nonclassical or nonlinear receptive fields, and properties of the inhibitory interneurons.       

Byron Yu 

Biomedical Engineering 
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University

Dimensionality Reduction of Large-Scale Neural Recordings during Sensorimotor Control
Most sensory, cognitive, and motor functions rely on the interaction among many neurons. To analyze the activity of many neurons together, many groups are now adopting advanced statistical methods, such as dimensionality reduction. In this talk, I will first describe how dimensionality reduction can be used in a closed-loop experimental setting to understand how learning is shaped by the underlying neural circuitry. Then, I will describe a novel latent variable model that extracts a subject's internal model during sensorimotor control.

Phil Wolff 
Emory University

The Large-Scale Structure of the Mental Dictionary: A Data Mining Approach Using Word2Vec, t-SNE, and GMeans
Advancements in machine learning and data mining have already led to amazing breakthroughs in the natural sciences, including the unlocking of the human genome and the detection of subatomic particles. Such techniques promise to wield a similar impact on the study of mind. In my talk I will discuss how the large-scale structure of the human mental lexicon, roughly 50,000 words, can be recovered from billions of words at a level of resolution that includes the differentiation of word senses. Central to this effort are several machine learning and dimensionality reduction techniques, including deep learning, t-Distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (t-SNE), and the clustering technique called GMeans. In addition to the extraction of the mental lexicon, I will discuss how an approach to topic modeling, based on neural networks, might be used to partially automate the process of theory generation. I also raise implications for research on physical and mental wellbeing.

Lena Ting 
Biomedical Engineering
Emory University 
Georgia Institute of Technology

Modularity in Neural Control of Movement
Neuromechanical principles define the properties and problems that shape neural solutions for movement. Although the theoretical and experimental evidence is debated, I will present arguments for consistent modular structures in motor patterns that are neuromechanical solutions for movement particular to an individual and shaped by evolutionary, developmental, and learning processes.


Jessica L. Allen (Post-Doctoral Fellow; Biomedical Engineering, Emory University)
Using non-negative matrix factorization to compare muscle coordination patterns across walking and balance post-stroke
Muscle coordination for walking and balance is often severely impaired post-stroke. Understanding how muscles are coordinated across tasks could have important implications for rehabilitation. However, simply recording muscle activity (electromyography, EMG) from multiple muscles results in large and variable datasets that are difficult to interpret. Motor module analysis, which uses non-negative matrix factorization, can reveal the underlying coordination patterns within a large dataset of EMG that would be hard to identify using individual muscle patterns. This technique has previously revealed that a common set of motor modules is recruited during both walking and reactive balance. We do not know if this persists after stroke. Therefore, the objective of this preliminary study was to examine if common motor modules are recruited across walking and balance post-stroke and how this relates to locomotor performance. We predicted that the number of common motor modules is reduced on the paretic leg and that this reduction is related to impaired locomotor performance. We collected data from five stroke survivors and two healthy older adults. EMG data from 13 muscles per leg were collected during standing reactive balance and walking at self-selected speed. Motor modules were identified from EMG using non-negative matrix factorization. The number of common motor modules between reactive balance and walking was found using Pearson’s correlations and we correlated walking speed to the number of motor modules on the paretic leg that were common across both tasks. The number of motor modules on the paretic leg common across both balance and walking was reduced compared to the nonparetic leg and HOA. We found a moderate positive relationship between walking speed and the number of motor modules common across balance and walking, providing evidence that recruiting common motor modules across reactive balance and walking is impaired post-stroke and is related to impaired mobility.

Elizabeth A. Amadei (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Emory University)

Measuring and manipulating corticostriatal functional neural circuitry in the socially monogamous prairie vole
The ability to form positive social relationships is key to mental health, and yet the underlying functional neural circuitry remains poorly understood. The socially monogamous prairie vole is a canonical animal model for social bonding. Previous anatomical, genetic, and pharmacological studies have implicated two corticostriatal nodes – the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAcc) – in vole social bond formation. However, these approaches do not provide a dynamic view of the functional neural activity and connectivity of these regions during social interactions leading to a bond.  To address this, we measured and manipulated neural activity within this circuit in socially-behaving female voles. We found an enhancement in low-frequency mPFC-to-NAcc connectivity during mating, a behavior that accelerates vole bond formation, compared to the control, non-social behavior of self-grooming. Further, optogenetically stimulating mPFC afferents to the NAcc at low frequencies in the absence of mating shifts later behavioral preference towards a partner, suggesting that low-frequency activation of this circuit is functionally relevant for bond formation. Finally, phase-amplitude coupling from mPFC to NAcc is enhanced during mating, suggesting that mPFC activation during social bonding drives NAcc by rhythmically modulating its excitability. Together, these results reveal a dynamic picture of corticostriatal activation during bond formation, with exciting implications for how affiliative social interactions can recruit reward and reinforcement systems to drive changes in behavior. A key ongoing direction is to determine the role of neurochemicals (e.g. oxytocin) in modulating this system.

Jacob Billings (Graduate Student; Neuroscience, Emory University)

Multiscale functional connectivity: Fractionation and recomposition in space and frequency
Recent advances in functional connectivity (FC) analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data facilitate the characterization of the brain’s intrinsic functional networks (FC-fMRI). Because the fMRI signal does not provides a perfect representation of neuronal activity, the potential for FC-fMRI to identify functionally relevant networks critically depends upon separating overlapping signals from one another and from external noise. As a step in data preconditioning, researchers often band-pass filter fMRI signals to the range from 0.01 Hz to 0.1 Hz. However, coordinated network oscillations operate across multiple frequencies. Thus, it is not clear that the view of FC-fMRI networks within a single spectral range produces the fullest characterization of brain’s multiple and overlapping systems. The following study addresses this limitation by advancing a multiscale fractionation of FC-fMRI networks, as well methods for quantifying cross-spectral network similarity. These methods clearly and consistently represent group-level brains as composed of well-known functional networks.

Alexander W. Calhoun (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Lasting effects of estradiol on network activity of rat cortical neurons in vitro
In rats, sexual differentiation of the developing brain is largely driven by 17β-estradiol (E2), locally produced by conversion of gonadal testosterone. Exposure to E2 during a critical period of embryonic development masculinizes and defeminizes the brain, producing behavioral sex differences in adults and priming the brain for further changes at puberty. At the cellular level, E2 promotes synaptogenesis and increases the excitatory drive of neural circuits. While it is widely believed that such changes in connectivity underlie observable sex differences in behavior, it is unknown how E2 affects the function of neural networks, a critical missing link between morphology and behavior.   We used dissociated cultures of cortical neurons harvested from E18 rats and grown on 59-channel multielectrode arrays to investigate how early exposure to estradiol alters population-level activity. Cultures were treated with 10 nM E2 or vehicle for the first week in vitro, and we recorded spontaneous activity every two days from 10-26 days in vitro. E2-treated cultures showed similar patterns of activity to vehicle-treated controls throughout their development, including the emergence of network-wide bursts. However, even weeks after exposure, E2-treated cultures showed greater intra-network variance in the strength, latency, and temporal span of functional connections between their constituent units. This suggests that early E2 exposure has a lasting organizational effect on the complexity of synaptic networks and potentially their ability to represent and process information, even when stripped of the structure of the brain in vivo.

Xiangxi Gao (Undergraduate Student; Emory University)

Crohn’s Disease classifier using gut microbiome composition data
The human gut microbiome, consisting of all the microorganisms in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, has become recognized for its diverse roles in shaping our health and development. However, the  insufficiently characterized microbial networks and interactions occurring in the GI tract pose challenges toward fully understanding the gut microbiome’s role in human health. Alteration of the gut microbiome’s composition, along with genetic risk factors, have been implicated in Crohn’s disease (CD). Compositional differences in the gut microbiomes of CD and control subjects have been well documented, but changes in microbial interactions associated with CD remain unknown. Using composition data of bacterial taxa from RISK, a large cohort study of the gut microbiome in newly diagnosed and untreated pediatric CD subjects, significant compositionally different bacterial taxa between CD and control subjects and groups of bacterial taxa that tend to co-occur together were identified at the Operational Taxonomical Unit (OTU), genus, and family levels.  A multivariate Gaussian classifier, which incorporated interactions between significant bacterial taxa in the form of an inverse covariance (precision) matrix, performed equally well as an independent Gaussian classifier and other conventional classifiers, indicating that interactions were not informative for predicting CD diagnosis. However, differences in co-occurrence among bacterial taxa were observed when a group of weakly correlated taxa in the control subjects became strongly correlated in CD subjects at both the genus and family levels. In particular, the Ruminococcaceae and Lachnospiraceae families exhibited a strong correlated decrease in relative abundance in CD subjects and are known to be involved in butyrate production which affects homeostasis of the gut immune system. Deciphering such changes, though not informative for classification purposes, may still provide insights into CD pathogenesis.

Sara M. List (Graduate Student; Neuroscience, Emory University)

Representational similarity analysis examining body-metaphor fMRI data
Representational similarity analysis (RSA) is a form of multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), which can be used to compare voxel-wise differences in activity across various conditions, allowing more in-depth information to be extracted from neural responses than can be seen from standard univariate activation differences.  RSA can foster the comparison of response patterns for a set of stimuli through representational distance matrices, such that the distinction among stimuli that are functionally relevant can be determined.  This method has proven to be an effective complement to standard univariate analysis.  The data that was analyzed for the current project consists of blood oxygenation level dependent signals obtained when participants were visually presented with images of body parts, such as the face, arm, and leg, as well as when participants were presented with metaphors referring to body parts (i.e. “give a hand”).  The goal of this project was to compare voxel-wise activity across all combinations of body parts (i.e. visual face to visual arm, visual face to visual leg, etc) and then to compare the visual to the metaphor condition.  This analysis indicated no additional voxel-wise patterns between region of interest and visual or metaphoric presentation of body parts that survived significance tests.  However, searchlight MVPA using support vector machine classifiers revealed a topographic mapping that somatosensory and motor areas share, which suggested that the extrastriate body area is sensitive to motor as well as visual stimulation. These findings confirm what the standard univariate analyses indicated for this experiment and are empirically backed by previous studies.  RSA and other multivariate approaches are recommended for current neuroscience projects comparing fine-grained activity across multiple conditions.

David A. Nicholson (Graduate Student; Biology, Emory University)

Features required for support vector classification of birdsong elements
Songbirds provide a tractable model system for the study of vocalization and other sequenced motor skills. In the same way that infants learn to speak from their parents, songbirds learn their song by listening to tutor birds and then practicing this behavior millions of times. Each bird’s song consists of repeated elements, often separated by brief silent gaps, referred to as “syllables”. To analyze how different experiments affect production and learning of song, experimenters must label these elements by hand. However, the songbird species that typically are used for laboratory studies will sing without training or extrinsic reward from experimenters, meaning the birds can produce hundreds or thousands of songs a day, many more than can be labeled. Hence some labs have contributed automated analyses of birdsong to the community, including the use of various machine learning algorithms to label elements (cf., Tchernichovski et al 2000, Kogan Margoliash 1998). However, no study has applied standard methods to demonstrate the effectiveness of such machine learning algorithms, such as n-fold cross validation, or to determine which features provide the best discrimination of elements, such as rating the features with f-scores.  One recent study in particular made use of support vector machines (SVMs) to label the songs of Bengalese Finches (Tachibana et al. 2014). Using the same SVM method as Tachibana et al., I have reproduced their result on Bengalese Finch song collected in our lab. I go on to show with 5-fold cross validation on typically-sized data sets that this is a viable technique for automatic
classification of Bengalese Finch song elements. Discriminability scores demonstrate that power spectra of song elements averaged across time are the best features to use for classification. Preliminary attempts to reduce dimensionality of the feature vectors with the “Best n features” method (Sanders et al 2013) show that most (18/24) of the features are required to maximize discriminability. Studies in progress will test whether other imensionality reduction methods can improve on this result, and whether SVMs can classify the song of a related species, the zebra finch, with a comparable level of accuracy.

Aiden M. Payne (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology)

Redundant levels of modular motor control revealed by peripheral sensory loss
Motor modules are coordinated groups of simultaneously activated muscles thought to encode a wide range of motor behaviors within the central nervous system (CNS). Alternatively, motor modules may not require coordination from the CNS, but may reflect biomechanically constrained proprioceptive feedback from the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The role of proprioception in the structure and activation of motor modules was investigated in a reactive balance task before and after pyridoxine-induced loss of large-diameter peripheral afferents (n = 5 cats, Stapley 2002, Lockhart 2007). We hypothesize that centrally encoded modules would be unchanged by sensory loss, whereas modules shaped by sensory feedback should be lost or altered. Histological assessment of axon diameters in mixed and cutaneous nerves revealed a range of loss from severely affected (loss of group I and partial loss of group II fibers >5-6um), moderately affected (loss of group I fibers >7-8um), and mildly affected (partial loss of group I fibers >15-16um). Motor modules were identified by non-negative matrix factorization in responses to postural perturbations at three time points: intact (day 0), at the onset of sensory loss (days 4-5, determined by absence of tendon tap response), and at the final time point before histological collection (days 9-18). Consistent with the idea that motor modules are centrally encoded, a moderately affected cat had similar motor structure across time points. In contrast, another moderately affected cat showed a loss of module structure at the onset of sensory loss, followed by the appearance of new modules, suggesting initial reliance on feedback and the availability of other means of coordinating motor modules. These results suggest motor modules are not exclusively organized by the CNS but are not entirely the result of biomechanically constrained proprioceptive feedback. Redundant levels of modular motor control may have important implications for rehabilitation of movement disorders.

Krishna Pusuluri (Graduate Student; Neuroscience, Georgia State University)

Dynamical analysis of connected neuronal motifs with OpenAcc and OpenMPI
Large scale analysis of the dynamical behavior of Central Pattern Generators (CPGs) formed by neuronal networks of even small sizes is computationally intensive and grows exponentially with network size. We have developed a suite of tools to exhaustively study the behavior of such networks on modern GPGPU accelerators using the directive based approach of OpenAcc. We also achieve parallelization across clusters of such machines using OpenMPI. Directive based approaches simplify the task of porting serial code onto GPUs, without the necessity for expertise in lower level approaches to GPU programming,  such as CUDA and OpenCL. 3-cell neuronal CPGs have been explored previously using various GPGPU tools [1]. As motifs form the building blocks of larger networks, we have employed our framework to study 4-cell CPGS and two connected 3-cell motifs. We discuss the performance improvements achieved using this framework and present some of our results.

Clarissa J. Whitmire (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University)

Information coding through adaptive control of synchronized thalamic bursting
It has been posited that the regulation of burst/tonic firing in the thalamus could function as a mechanism for controlling not only how much, but what kind of information is conveyed to downstream cortical targets.  Yet how this gating mechanism is adaptively modulated on fast time scales by ongoing sensory inputs in rich sensory environments remains unknown. Using single unit recordings in the rat vibrissa thalamus (VPm), we found that the degree of bottom-up adaptation modulated thalamic burst/tonic firing as well as the synchronization of bursting across the thalamic population along a continuum for which the extremes facilitate detection or discrimination of sensory inputs. Optogenetic control of baseline membrane potential in thalamus further suggests that this regulation may result from an interplay between adaptive changes in thalamic membrane potential and synaptic drive from inputs to thalamus, setting the stage for an intricate control strategy upon which cortical computation is built. 

Adam A. Willats (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University)

Closed loop optogenetic control: Closing the loop around neural circuits in vivo
Since the advent of optogenetics, there has been ever¬ growing interest in applying this technology to the control of neural activity. However, factors such as variable opsin expression, differential distribution of light, and spontaneous neural states make robust control of neural activity intractable with open loop stimulation. To overcome these limitations, we have engineered a system for closed ¬loop control of neural activity which combines single ¬unit thalamic recording and optogenetic stimulation through real¬ time interfacing in the rat vibrissa system in ¬vivo. Here we present an overview of this technique and its success in controlling step changes in firing rate as well as technical refinements to the process of estimating firing rate from spikes which allow much improved control of dynamic firing rate targets.

Riley T. Zeller-Towson (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology)

In vitro simultaneous recording of multiple axonal compartments identified using entirely electrical measurements on a novel micro electrode array
Conduction velocity dynamics of action potentials in cortex impact the transmission of spike timing information, and may shed light on the neural code. Measurement of changes in action potential conduction velocity along axons in cortex is hampered by several factors, including: low signal amplitude of the axon compared to measurement noise, presence of many competing signals from other neurites and spatial constraints on measuring from multiple electrical compartments of the same axon. The HiDens CMOS Micro Electrode Array system is a novel platform for the investigation of electrophysiological phenomena in the axon in vitro. This platform provides 126 channels of acquisition, which can be reconfigured in seconds to record from a nearly arbitrary subset of the 11015 electrodes on the array.  I describe an experiment protocol for the identification and stimulation of individual axons grown in vitro on the array, using entirely electrical methods. This protocol uses a combination of scanning experiments and targeted experiments.  Scanning experiments combine data recorded over many configurations and trials to increase spatial sampling and SNR.  These experiments were used to gather information on axon location, and responsiveness to electrical stimulation.  This then informed the design of targeted experiments, where a single configuration (with subsequently reduced spatial sampling) was used to perform single trial recordings from multiple compartments of interest of single axons.  The dimensionality of the targeted recording was further reduced down to a single recording per axonal compartment through the use of matched filters, which were based on prototypical waveforms recorded during the scanning experiment. The data generated through this protocol are used to measure conduction reliability and velocity changes of evoked spikes traveling antidromically and orthodromically, allowing direct comparison between the antidromic conduction that is more accessible for in vivo experimentation, and the orthodromic conduction which is believed to be more computationally relevant.

Charles L. Zhao (Graduate Student; Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology)

Examining genetic background and synaptic morphology with heterozygotes
The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans is prized for ease of handling and genetic manipulation. This encourages use for genetic studies, which has yielded ground-breaking results. However, the vast majority of genetic studies in C. elegans have been done on the strain N2, in which decades of cultivation has resulted in behavioral, physiological, and genetic divergence from wild populations. The exact significance of this is unknown, but evaluation of this has been bottlenecked by difficulties in experimental procedure, as well as the subtlety of background effects, whose observation requires much larger sampler sizes and fluorescent markers in every background, rendering examination of more than a handful of genetic backgrounds impracticable.  To address this, we introduce a methodology tying together several innovations made by this lab. These include microfluidics for high-throughput imaging, computer vision for rapid and accurate quantitative phenotyping, and the use of heterozygotes for comparison of genetic backgrounds without burdensome, repeated outcrossing.   We use a combination of the two recently introduced dominant synaptic mutants jkk-1 (km2) and unc-104 (wy673), along with the synaptic marker Pmig-13:snb-1::yfp. By crossing these strains with wildtype strains of C. elegans, producing heterozygous F1 progeny, we show that background effects on synaptic morphology can be discerned, using the N2-cross as a control. In particular, we show that the background of the Hawaiian strain CB4856 exerts an effect on synaptic morphology similar to km2 and wy673, without reinforcing these mutations when present. Since CB4856 does not carry mutations known to affect synaptic morphology, the CB4856 wildtype background exerts a novel effect on these phenotypes. 
We thus demonstrate that our method is capable of detecting subtle genetic background effects, and also that these effects are an important confound to genetic discovery.


Gordon Berman 
Emory University

Embedding High-Dimensional Clusters with t-SNE
Almost all dimensionality-reduction schemes have the property that data points initially far away in a high dimensional space will remain approximately the same distance away in the lower-dimensional representation that is created. A consequence of this is that local ordering in the high-dimensional space often is warped or destroyed, thus preventing study of clustering and other meso-scale patterns in the data set. A recently developed technique for dimensionality reduction, t-Distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (t-SNE), is able to perform the precise opposite — maintaining local structure but creating long length-scale distortions. The price to be paid here, however, is that this algorithm is non-convex and has very poor scaling properties, going like N^2 in both time and memory. In this tutorial, I will introduce methods for implementing this algorithm and its variants, showing the relative strengths and weaknesses of this type of embedding. We will apply t-SNE to both conjured and real-world data using Matlab scripts and compare the results to more traditional non-linear embedding techniques. In addition, we will see how, under certain conditions and approximations, it is possible to scale this approach up to include hundreds of millions of data points.

Byron Yu 
Biomedical Engineering
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University

Dimensionality Reduction in Neural Modeling
In this tutorial, we will cover dimensionality reduction methods that are commonly used to interpret neural population activity, including principal components analysis, factor analysis, and latent dynamical systems. We will implement these methods in MATLAB and apply them to population recordings from the motor cortex.

Phil Wolff 
Emory University

Techniques for Recovering Conceptual Structure from Text
Neural network approaches to the representation of words and images are now the state of the art. In this tutorial I will discuss two instantiations of this approach, word2vec and sent2vec, including how these techniques can be implemented in cython, a C++ extension to Python. Time allowing, we will also discuss t-SNE, a dimensionality reduction technique (like PCA) that is particularly well suited for visualizing high-dimensionality datasets. The example datasets will involve both words and images. 


Ilya Nemenman
Emory University 

The Mathematics of Dimensionality Reduction Methods

Sponsored by CMBC with additional support from the Emory College Neuroscience Fund, the Institute for Quantitative Methods (QuanTM), and the Cognitive Neuroscience Training Grant (CNTG).



April 3 -  4, 2015

Keynote Speaker:
Lisa Cartwright (University of California, San Diego)

Plenary Speakers:
Sander Gilman (Emory University)
Stefanie Speanburg

Contemporary representations of the human body proliferate at an ever-increasing rate through the medium of new technologies (medical and other scientifically oriented imaging technology, ‘new media’, contemporary art, etc.). This conference interrogates the bidirectional movement between subjective images of the body and contemporary technological possibilities of representation. We invite proposals from across the humanities and health sciences, from both academic and clinical perspectives, that explore the ways in which perceptions, identities, and knowledge and the process of body imaging broadly conceived influence each other. In what ways is the body being imaged? When can parts of the body come to represent the whole? What does it mean to see or to image pathology (vs the healthy body)? How do we define a healthy body image and an image of a healthy body? How do particular images of the body foster relationships (not always positive) between science and literature, doctor and patient, or art and technology? Specifically, how do these questions arise in psychoanalytic contexts and what can psychoanalysis bring to these conversations?

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

FALL 2014


September 19th, 2014
Emory Conference Center Hotel
Silverbell Pavillion

Sarah Brosnan (Department of Psychology, Georgia State University): That's Not Fair! What Cucumber-Throwing Capuchins Tell Us about the Evolution of Fairness

Pier Francesco Ferrari (Unita di Fisiologia, Universita degli Studi di Parma): The Evolution of Mind and What Neuroscience Can Tell Us about It

Robert Frank (Johnson School of Management, Cornell University): Frans de Waal: Economic Naturalist

Harold Gouzoules (Department of Psychology, Emory University): From Darvin to de Waal:  A Brief History of Animal Behavior Research

Melanie Killen (College of Education, University of Maryland): How Frans de Waal Changed the Field:  The Origins and Development of Morality

Harry Kunneman (Social Philosophy, Universiteit Voor Humanistiek): Science, Morality, and Epistemology:  Frans de Waal's Visionary Quest

Lisa Parr (Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University): My Journey into Face Space:  Graduate School and Beyond

Susan Perry (Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles): The Social Mind of Wild Capuchins

Josh Plotnik (University of Cambridge): A Primate's Festschrift:  Pant Grunts, Elephant Noses, and Frans

Karen Strier (Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin): Exceptional Primates and the Insights that Change a Field

Stephanie Preston (Department of Psychology, University of Michigan): A "Good Natured" Biological and Historical Evolution of Empathy

Jan van Hoof (Universiteit Utrecht): Introduction to Frans B.M. de Waal


Frans de Waal
Department of Psychology, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and Living Links Center
Emory University

From Chimpanzee Politics to Primate Empathy:  A Career

Sponsored by the Department of Psychology with additional support from the Emory Conference Center Hotel Subvention Fund, the Hightower Fund, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and the CMBC.



March 22 – 29, 2014

The Atlanta Science Festival is a weeklong celebration of local science and technology. Atlanta residents of all ages had 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 uncovered mysteries and explained 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.

FALL 2013

Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia

 October 22-- 23, 2013
Harland Cinema
Anthropology 303

Robert Lemelson, PhD
Departments of Psychiatry and Anthropology
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and
Center for Culture and Health
University of California at Los Angeles

Religion and Faith                
Film Screenings of Memory of My Face and Ngaben with panel discussion to follow
Moderator: Robert N. McCauley (CMBC)
Respondents: Jim Hoesterey (Religion); Bradd Shore (Anthropology) 

Cultural Attitudes                
Film Screening of Shadows and Illuminations with panel discussion to follow
Moderator: Lynne Nygaard (CMBC)
Respondents: Dan Reynolds (Film Studies); Bekh Bradley (Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences)

Film Screenings of Ritual Burdens and Kites and Monsters with panel discussion to follow
Moderator: Lynne Nygaard (CMBC)
Respondents: Mel Konner (Anthropology); Elaine Walker (Psychology) 

Politics and History
Film Screening of 40 Years of Silence with panel discussion to follow
Moderators:  Carol Worthman (Anthropology) and Jenny Chio (Anthropology)
Respondents: Doug Bremner (Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit); Jim Hoesterey (Religion) 

Mental Illness, Ethnography and Filmmaking 

Robert Lemelson (Psychiatry and Anthropology, UCLA), Jenny Chio, Bradd Shore, Debra Vidali, and Carol Worthman (Anthropology); Anna Grimshaw (ILA); Philippe Rochat (Psychology)

Director and anthropologist Dr. Robert Lemelson visited Emory from October 22-23, 2013, to screen and discuss his films on culture, psychology, mental illness, and personal experience, which are based on years of fieldwork conducted in Indonesia since 1997. He led a closed workshop for Emory graduate students on October 23 to discuss in greater depth his experiences in ethnographic filmmaking, research, and analysis.  The workshop brought together a dynamic, interdisciplinary group of students from Anthropology and the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture, as well as associated disciplines.  Emory faculty from Anthropology, ILA, and other departments also joined the conversation during the workshop. 

The day before the workshop, on October 22, CMBC and Anthropology held organized screenings and discussions of Dr. Lemelson's films, featuring commentary from Emory faculty and Q&A with the director.  This day's events included work from his recent Afflictions series on culture and mental illness in Indonesia, and a special evening screening of  40 Years of Silence based on the stories of four individuals who survived Suharto's New Order regime. 

For more information about the films and Dr. Lemelson's work, please visit his website

Sponsored by the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture and the Department of Anthropology, with additional support from Film and Media StudiesReligion, and Psychology.


December 10, 2013
Grace Crum Rollins Building
Claudia Nance Rollins Building
Rollins School of Public Health

This interdisciplinary symposium examined stereotype bias in academia, and aimed to 1) identify and discuss issues of bias within the Emory community via a seminar series throughout the fall, 2) gain further understanding of bias and strategies to mitigate bias through a day-long symposium featuring experts from around the country, and 3) create a final report discussing bias at Emory and methods to combat it, to be shared with the Emory community and other academic institutions.

October 24, 2013
An Introduction to Bias: A Neuroscience Primer

Led by Jacob Billings, Neuroscience graduate student

November 6, 2013
Biased People or Biased Researchers? A Puzzle in Social Psychology

Led by Chris Martin, Sociology graduate student

November 21, 2013
A Look at Power Structures and Bias in Academic Settings

Led by Roger Sikes, Public Health graduate student

December 4, 2013
Operationalizing the Research on Bias: Faculty Hiring and Recruitment Practices

Led by Dona Yarbrough, Associate Vice Provost for Community and Diversity

December 10, 2013
This event featured a cross-disciplinary group of experts to provide a broad intellectual understanding of the scientific basis of stereotype bias as well as a panel discussion of solutions to reduce bias and stereotype in academia. Speakers included Liz Phelps (New York University), Chad Forbes (University of Delaware), and Greg Walton (Stanford University).

Sponsored by the Emory Center for Ethics and the Laney Graduate School, with CMBC co-sponsorship.

FALL 2012


October 6, 2012

In memory of Dick Neisser, the Emory Cognition Project and the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture co-sponsored a one day symposium on October 6th, 2012. Dick founded the Emory Cognition Project when he arrived at Emory University in 1983, and directed this project over the next 13 years. The Cognition Project held over a dozen conferences and workshops and produced 10 edited volumes in the Emory Cognition Project Symposia series. The Emory Cognition Project created a vibrant intellectual community, both within Emory University and across the discipline, nationally and internationally, around issues central to human cognition.

To mark Dick’s impact on the study of cognition at Emory, several of Dick’s colleagues and graduate students from his days at Emory offered presentations highlighting the influence of Dick and his work on their own research. The symposium was held in the Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences (PAIS) building on the Emory campus with a reception following. This event was free and open to the public.



An Interdisciplinary Reflection on the Meanings of Fairness

(Audio Available on iTunesU)

October 18 - 19, 2012
Emory Conference Center Hotel
Silverbell Pavillion

Welcome and Introduction
Philippe Rochat, Psychology, Emory University

Law and Culture
Jerome Bruner (Keynote), New York University The Ambiguities of Fairness
Bradd Shore, Emory University Fair Trade in Pacific Exchange Ritual? Why the Concept of Fairness Doesn't Quite Apply
Michael Sullivan, Emory University Fairness, Philosophy, and Legal Pragmatism

Ethics and Politics
Edward Queen, Center for Ethics, Emory University Fairness: Subjective or Objective, Envy or Equity
President Jimmy Carter, Emory University/Carter Center Fairness and Equity in Politics and Human Affairs (Lecture Notes Available)

Neuroscience and Neuropolicy
James Rilling, Emory University The Neurobiology of Fairness
Gregory Berns, Emory University Fairness and Sacred Values

Comparative Psychology and Evolution
Frans DeWaal, Emory University First- and Second-Order Inequity Aversion in Primates
Nicolas Baumard, University of Pennsylvania The Evolution of Fairness by Partner Choice
Gustavo Faigenbaum, Universidad Autonoma de Entre Rios, Argentina Three Dimentions of Fairness

Development and Adult Cognition
Elizabeth Spelke, Harvard University Fairness and In-group Parochialism in Children
Karen Wynn, Yale University Social Judgments in Young Infants: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Samar Zebian, Lebanese American University Distributive Justice Decisions about Land Ownership by Young Refugee Palestinian and U.S. Children
Monica Capra, Emory University Moral Wiggle Room in Economic Experiments
Philippe Rochat, Emory University Sameness Detection and Equity in Children Across Cultures
Philip Wolff, Emory University Linguistics of Possession and Sharing Across Cultures

Concluding remarks
Philippe Rochat, Emory University

Co-sponsored by the Emory Cognition Project, the Emory Office of the Provost, and the Emory Center for Ethics



March 8, 2012
Cox Hall Ballroom
Emory University

Laura Otis (Department of English, Emory University)

Krish Sathian (Department of Neurology, Emory University)

Emory's Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture and the Laney Graduate School’s New Thinkers, New Leaders program presented a one-day symposium: "Metaphors and the Mind." Held in conjunction with Laura Otis’s and Krish Sathian’s graduate course, “Images, Metaphors, and the Brain,” this symposium brought together three innovative writers with three leading neuroscientists who do cutting-edge research on language. The authors read from their works and offered insights into the creative processes underlying literary writing, and exchanged ideas with the scientists, who presented recent findings on the relevant brain mechanisms. Co-sponsored by the Program in Linguistics. Supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Silence Being Golden
Jim Grimsley (Creative Writing Program,  Emory University)

The Neuroscience of Relational Thinking
Anjan Chatterjee  (Neurology, University of Pennsylvania)

Alpha and Omega
Salman Rushdie (University Distinguished Professor, Emory University)

Neural Cartography:  Conceptual Mapping in Mind and Brain
Seana Coulson (Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego)

Head in the Wrong Direction
Joseph Skibell (Creative Writing Program, Emory University)

Time Is Space:  The Neuropsychology of an Everyday Metaphor
David Kemmerer (Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences; Psychological Sciences, Purdue University)



March 19, 2012

Find Answers to your Rhetorical Questions: One-on-One with James Murphy and Peter Mack
hat Is the Use of Rhetoric? Ask the Experts

James J. Murphy, Department of Rhetoric, University of California, Davis
Peter Mack, Warburg Institute, London
Lynee Lewis Gaillet, Department of English, Georgia State University
Roberto Franzosi, 2011-2012 Fox Center Senior Fellow, Department of Sociology and Linguistics Program, Emory University
Moderated by Elizabeth Goodstein, The Graduate Institute for the Liberal Arts, Emory University. 

Co-sponsored by the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry; the Hightower Fund of Emory College; the Departments of Art HistoryClassicsComparative LiteratureEnglish, and Sociology; and the Graduate Institute for the Liberal Arts.




April 21, 2010

Chikako Ozawa-de Silva (Department of Anthropology, Emory University)
Khenrab Gyantso (Men Tsee Khang Tibetal Medical College of Dharamsala, India)
Lynn Sibley (Department of Anthropology and Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University)
Zack Stowe (Department of Psychiatry and Brain Sciences, Emory University)



March 26-27, 2010

This workshop examined the relationship between sound and meaning in spoken language. Its goals were to explore the nature of the relationship between inherently arbitrary aspects of language and apparently non-arbitrary relations between the sound structure of language and its meaning, with an interest in how the sounds of spoken language come to refer to objects, categories, actions, and concepts in the workld and why the sounds of spoken words might resemble the properties of their referents. Talks addressed the relations between prosody and meaning, between phonemic and phonological characteristics of natural spoken language and grammatical form class, and between sound sequences and semantics. Behavioral, computational, and neuroscientific perspectives were represented. This topic is of central importance for our understanding of how the structure of language relates to meaning. 

Relationship between Prosody and Meaning:

Howard Nussbaum (Department of Psychology, University of Chicago)
Alex Pentland (Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Laura Namy (Department of Psychology, Emory University)
DISCUSSANT: Linda Smith (Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University) 

Relationship between Prosody and Form Class:

Morten Christiansen (Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Cornell University)
Benjamin Bergen (Department of Cognitive Science, University of California at San Diego)
Mutsumi Imai (Environmental Information, Keio University)
DISCUSSANT:  Robert Goldstone (Department of Cognitive Science, Indiana University) 

Relationship between Sounds and Meaning:

Daphne Maurer (Department of Psychology, McMaster University)
Krish Sathian (Department of Neurology, Emory University School of Medicine)
Lynne Nygaard (Department of Psychology, Emory University)
DISCUSSANT:  Larry Barsalou (Department of Psychology, Emory University) 

Roundtable Discussion

FALL 2009


November 12-13, 2009

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species

Matt Ridley "Darwin in Genes and Culture"

Jim Rilling (Anthropology, Emory University) "Comparative Higher Primate Neuroimaging: Insights into the Evolution of Human Brain and Mind"

Richard Passingham (Psychology, University of Oxford) "How to Turn a Chimpanzee into a Person"

Todd Preuss (Yerkes, Emory University) "The Human Brain: Rewired and Running Hot"

Melvin Konner (Anthropology, Emory University) "Childhood Evolving: The Role of Development in the Evolution of Mind"

Pascal Boyer (Psychology and Anthropology, Washington University) "What is Memory For?"

Debra Lieberman (Psychology, University of Miami) "It's All Relative: The Evolution of Psychological Mechanisms Governing Kin Detection, Incest Avoidance, and Altruism"

Frans de Waal (Psychology, Yerkes, and Living Links, Emory University) "Prosocial Primates: Empathy, Fairness, and Cooperation"

Sally McBrearty (Anthropology, University of Connecticut) "Behavioral Change at the Origin of Homo sapiens"

Joe Henrich (Psychology and Economics, University of British Columbia) "On the Origins of a Cultural Species: How Social Learning Shaped Human Evolution"

The conference was funded by a grant from the  Emory University Subvention Fund, along with support from the Emory Cognition Project, the Department of Psychology, and the Department of Anthropology of Emory University.  It occurred in coordination with the premier of the play Homonid by Ken Weitzman at Theater Emroy (co-poduced with Out of Hand Theater), based on Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics, as well as with an exhibition entitled Origin at the Schatten Gallery of Robert W. Woodruff Library.


Experimental Video Conference: New Scientific Approaches to the Study of Religious Experience

May 22, 2009

Presenters included  Emma Cohen  (Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford) and  John D. Dunne  (Religion, Emory University) with responses from  Dianne M. Stewart  (Religion, Emory University) and  Justin Barrett  (Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology) Oxford University). Held at Emory University and the University of Oxford. 

Sponsored by the  American Academy of Religion .