About our research
Externally observable components of human actions carry only a tiny fraction of the information that matters. Human observers are vastly more interested in perceiving or inferring the mental states - the beliefs, desires and intentions - that lie behind the observable shell. If a person checks her watch, is she uncertain about the time, late for an appointment, or bored with the conversation? If a person shoots his friend on a hunting trip, did he intend revenge or just mistake his friend for a partridge? The mechanism people use to infer and reason about another person's states of mind is called a 'Theory of Mind' (ToM). One of the most striking discoveries of recent human cognitive neuroscience is that there is a group of brain regions in human cortex that selectively and specifically underlie this mechanism.
Our lab studies these brain regions for Theory of Mind, as a case study in the deeper and broader question: how does the brain - an electrical and biological machine - construct abstract thoughts?
Theory of Mind is an especially exciting case study because:
Our work uses as many methods as we can get our hands on: especially functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in adults and children, but also transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), neuropsychological patient studies, and eye-tracking and behavioural methods with adults and infants. And while we mostly study social cognition, a few projects in the lab focus on other key examples of a neurally-localised uniquely human cognitive capacities: executive function, and language.