MBB Junior Symposium 2016


Saturday, February 20, 2016, 9:30am to 3:00pm


William James Hall 1 (basement lecture hall)


Please note: This event is not open to the public.

The MBB junior symposium features talks by and discussions with a variety of scholars on an interdisciplinary theme in mind/brain/behavior. The symposium will include speaker presentations and a lunch/discussion with speakers and MBB faculty. The talks are open to all MBB undergraduates and faculty, and the full symposium activities are open to MBB juniors and to those MBB seniors who did not attend the fall 2014 symposium. Participation is required of students pursuing the Certificate in MBB (students in honors MBB tracks) and is also open and recommended to students pursuing or considering a secondary field in MBB.


If an alien naturalist arrived on earth to catalog its animal species, surely one of their first conclusions would be: “One of these things is not like the others.” Something is different about humans, from language to culture to morals to tools to reasoning to everything else. Each of our panelists has asked the question, “Why? What’s special about the human mind?”. Each of them took up this question as MBB students at Harvard. And, across their diverse and unpredictable paths, each has played a pivotal role in furnishing science with an answer.


Juniors and seniors who are completing the symposium requirement - and thus who will be attending the entire symposium - should pre-register by emailing Shawn Harriman at shawn_harriman@harvard.edu. Please include your name, year, MBB affiliation (track or secondary field), and concentration. Please pre-register by noon on Wednesday, February 17th.


9:30 a.m. - Registration (outside William James Hall 1)
9:45 a.m. - Welcome and Introduction, Alexandra Rosati
Officers of the Harvard Society for Mind, Brain, and Behavior will introduce each speaker.
10 a.m.– Changing Moral Minds, Liane Young
11 a.m. – From Gombe to Google – Diverse Applications of Cognitive Research, Victoria Wobber
12 p.m. – A Human Unique Mind-Meld? From Behavior-Contagion to Mind-Contagion, Laurie Santos
1 p.m.- Lunch and Discussion
2 p.m. – Panel Discussion and Conclusion, Symposium Organizers and Speakers, moderated by Fiery Cushman


Fiery Cushman, Assistant Professor of the Psychology (Psychology/FAS)

Alexandra Rosati, Assistant Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology (Human Evolutionary Biology/FAS)

Robert Stickgold, Associate Professor of Psychiatry (Harvard Medical School)


Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology (Yale University)

Liane Young, Associate Professor of Psychology (Boston College

Victoria Wobber, People Analyst (Google)


Changing Moral Minds (Liane Young) -- Many of us would like to think of morality and in particular our own moral values as steadfast and solid, as they may contribute to how we define ourselves. Yet, empirical evidence also reveals how powerfully flexible human moral cognition is. Indeed, our capacities for moral cognition allow us to engage with our social environment, which is constantly shifting. I'll present some recent work from our lab on this topic in both children and adults, looking at both judgment and behavior. This work relies on different approaches, from neuromodulation to priming distinct moral values, to reveal a picture of morality as malleable.

From Gombe to Google - Diverse Applications of Cognitive Research (Victoria Wobber) -- For this symposium I plan to describe the broad spectrum of areas where cognitive research can make a difference in our understanding of human behavior - from studying our closest living relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, to understanding how to keep people happier in the workplace. I'll talk about my graduate research focusing on apes, my motivations for moving from academics to industry, and the types of projects we work on in People Analytics at Google.

A Human Unique Mind-Meld? From Behavior-Contagion to Mind-Contagion (Laurie Santos) -- What allows for our human unique ability to jump into the minds of others? Synthesizing recent work in primate social cognition, I'll argue that humans possess a species-unique capacity to "mind-meld"— an automatic mental state contagion that stems from our unique ability to represent the mental states of others. I'll first review work on emotional and behavioral contagion in non-human primates, suggesting that primates share our human capacity to automatically jump into other individuals' behavioral states. I'll then present recent work from primate theory of mind and social problem-solving to argue that other primates may lack the capacity to automatically represent others' mental states in the way humans do. However, I'll also argue that our human capacity to represent others' mental states allows our species to make powerful cognitive leaps into other minds, but it comes with an interesting and evolutionary novel representational cost— the act of representing others' beliefs, intentions, and preferences sometimes causes us to have less access to our own.