New neuroscience center provides tools to study cognitive behaviorBy William Harms
The University has established the nation’s first Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience to provide faculty, students and other researchers an opportunity to study how mental processes and biological mechanisms interact, and how these interactions affect human social interaction, communication, thinking, emotions and health, as well as other aspects of daily life.
The center will support and encourage the use of interdisciplinary research methods to examine various areas of cognitive and social neuroscience, including social, behavioral, psychological, neural, physiological, cellular molecular, and genetic mechanisms.
John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology, who, like other researchers at the University, is interested in studying how social situations impact cognition, emotion and health, co-directs the center with Howard Nusbaum, Chairman of Psychology, who is interested in interpersonal communication, learning and attention.
In addition to Psychology, the center brings together faculty from the Pritzker School of Medicine, Psychiatry, Sociology, the Graduate School of Business, Human Development, History and Political Science.
“Some of the most innovative work in all of the academy is taking place in neuroscience, and this center takes the additional exciting step to connect it to the traditional social and behavioral concerns of the social sciences,” said Mark Hansen, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences and the Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science.
“The Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience represents just the kind of intellectual arbitrage the University has always excelled in,” Hansen added.
Cacioppo said, “The primary hypothesis for the center is that there are mechanisms at different levels of analysis that continually interact. Cultural beliefs, for example, can affect expectations and brain states, which in turn orchestrate peripheral physiology, social perception, cognition, emotion and interactions. The behavior of other people is continually affecting one’s beliefs, expectations and goals, thereby completing the interaction.”
The center uses the latest technology to help pursue research, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging.
The center’s multidisciplinary collaborative research is enriched through an interdisciplinary speaker series, meetings, workshops, conferences, retreats, international research network activities and special events. It also provides training through participating doctoral programs, medical rotations and fellowship programs, and the University’s M.D./Ph.D. program.
Cacioppo investigates how societal influences and personal relationships affect cognition and emotions, the underlying neural substrates and mechanisms, and peripheral response.
Cacioppo leads a team of scholars that received a $7.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study social, behavioral and neural mechanisms responsible for the association between social isolation (and feelings of isolation) and broad-based morbidity and mortality.
Researchers in Nusbaum’s lab work on a variety of topics, including the effects of sleep on language and motor learning, the mechanisms of spoken language use, and the role of attention in cognition and emotion.