What do we study?
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? 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.
Why do we study Theory of Mind?
Theory of Mind is an especially exciting case study because:
Who can participate?
Theory of Mind is a part of everyone's life, in all stages of development. In our studies, we work with diverse populations, college students, adults from the community, adults and children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), infants and young children, deaf individuals and blind individuals.
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.