Lab Members & Affiliates

Rebecca Saxe - Principal Investigator

saxe at mit dot edu

Emile Bruneau - Research Sceintist

ebruneau at mit dot edu


Cross-Cultural Social Cognition

How we think about others can depend upon what group they belong to. Group membership, however, is often difficult to define or identify. I am interested in a number of issues surrounding group identity, including how people from different cultural and religious perspectives are able to identify the group membership of others, how the brain responds to people within and outside of our groups, and our capacity to change how we think about other people. For example, how does experience change the way people think and reason about the actions and thoughts of others? And how does the brain differentially classify a person as an individual or a group member? To answer these questions I use functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) techniques.

Dorit Kliemann - Post Doc

dorit at mit dot edu

I am interested on how humans process social information in the brain. My current focus is on the social deficits in Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their underlying biological basis. To link behavior with brain function and brain structure more closely, I use a multi-methodal approach, including behavioral and eye-tracking measures, structural and functional neuroimaging, as well as diffusion weighted imaging to investigate connectivity patterns across brain regions.

Lindsey Powell - Post Doc

ljpowell at mit dot edu

I'm interested in the developmental origins of human social cognitive abilities, especially the ones that lead us to learn from and adopt the behaviors of other people. Much of my current research focuses on infants' evaluations of and inferences from imitation. I study this and other topics using both behavioral methods and near-infrared spectroscopy.

Stefano Anzellotti - Post Doc

anzellot at mit dot edu

I am interested in the human ability to acquire and process knowledge about other people, and in the underlying neural mechanisms. This includes recognizing person identity and representing associated semantic information, as well as processing information that is orthogonal to identity, such as emotions and mental states. My research focuses on the use of neuroimaging methods together with machine learning techniques and mathematical models to characterize (1) what information is represented in brain regions involved in processing knowledge about people, and (2) how these brain regions dynamically interact, working as a network during information processing. In addition to its importance for guiding social interactions, knowledge about people is a promising case study for understanding the mechanisms underlying human knowledge about the world.

Jorie Koster-Hale - Graduate Student

jorie at mit dot edu


Language and Theory of Mind

I am interested in the cognitive and neural bases of high level representation, particularly the role that language plays in higher level representation, concept building, and generalization. My focus is on intensional semantics, theory of mind, and the interface between the two. I explore, using behavioral and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) techniques, what it is that allows people to hold abstract and at times inconsistent representations of the world, including other people's beliefs and mental states, future outcomes, and alternative possibilities.

Todd Thompson - Graduate Student

toddt at mit dot edu

The effect of training on Executive Function

Todd is interested in using a variety of neuroimaging techniques to investigate methods of increasing intelligence.

Ben Deen - Graduate Student

bdeen at mit dot edu


I'm interested in our ability to infer high-level social information from visual stimuli, such as human motion, facial expression, gaze direction, etc. When we view a human grasp at an object, we rapidly and automatically interpret this action in a mentalistic framework: the person has a desire to have the object, and is therefore retrieving it. More subtly, point-light displays depicting human walking motion can convey complex social properties such as the emotional state of the walker. What sort of computations underlie these abilities, and how are they implemented in the brain? Are similar brain regions involved in the kinematic analysis of human motion, the inference of intentions or goals from motion stimuli, and prediction of future actions based on these goals, or do these processes rely on dissociable substrates? And finally, do these processes need to be explained in terms of simple mental states as opposed to phenomenal states, and if so, do different types of mental states (e.g. intentional, perceptual, emotional) interact to form coherent interpretations at the perceptual level?

Amy Skerry - Graduate Student

amy dot skerry at gmail dot com

My research focuses on basic social-cognitive inferences (e.g. identifying a goal from observed movements or an emotional state from a causal context) as case studies in how the mind recruits abstract knowledge and assumptions to go beyond the information available in perceptual input. I use a combination of fMRI and behavioral methods to investigate the neural mechanisms that support these inferences, as well as their origins in human development.

Hilary Richardson - Graduate Student

hlrich at mit dot edu

While I was a research assistant at the University of Michigan I became extremely interested in developmental neuroscience and studies surrounding the theory of mind. I am intrigued by the different hypotheses explaining the development of the theory of mind, and am interested in how various life experiences affect this development. I am excited to be a part of the effort to clarify when and how this complex construct forms in the human brain.

Alex Paunov - Graduate Student

apaunov at mit dot edu

My ultimate research interest is in understanding how cognition and communication in human societies give rise to culture (Sperber, 1996). Because culture is the product of interactions between individual minds, a detailed naturalistic theory of culture must be grounded in the mental representations contained in individual minds and the social-cognitive processes that govern change in these representations. Consequently, my more proximate interests are only indirectly related to culture; they are in better characterizing the micro-level mechanisms by which people's minds change in response to socially acquired information, and specifically in explaining how information containing evidence about the mental states of other agents is processed, how the inferred mental states are represented, and how these representations are then used to update one's own mental states. The particular source of evidence about others' minds that I focus on is verbally communicated information, primarily because there are more detailed formal descriptions of language than of complex non-verbal actions, as well as due to the importance of language as a vehicle for cultural change. Methodologically, my aim is to tackle these questions through a combination of sensitive behavioral paradigms and the best available techniques in human cognitive neuroscience. By extension, I am therefore interested in advancing data acquisition and analysis techniques. So, my goal is to first make progress toward a taxonomy of representations of others' mental states and toward a qualitative description of the processes they participate in, informed by observed differences in the neural implementation. This, in turn, should facilitate computational modeling of the structure and dynamics of change of these representations.

Laura Ligouri - Project Coordinator

lligouri at mit dot edu

I am interested in understanding the underlying psychological structure of collective victimization and how this impacts dimensions of inter-group bias and violent conflict. I would like to understand the bidirectional, mutual constitution of culture and neurobiological processes that give rise to mental representations of collective victimization and the way in which this translates to behavior. Within this realm, I would like to investigate how perceived social exclusion may directly contribute towards an increased sense of collective victimization. Within my search to understand inter-group conflict, I am also interested in narrative and the central role narratives play within in-group identity and the concretization of specific group stances during conflict. Research seeks to elucidate the psychological mechanisms underlying in-group narrative formation and promulgation in order to gain a deeper insight as to the ways narrative work (e.g. NGOs) impacts cognition.

Grace Lisandrelli - Lab Manager / Pediatric fMRI Coordinator

glisandr at mit dot edu

I have a keen interest in the neural mechanisms underlying social cognition in typical and special populations (primarily individuals with autism spectrum disorder) and how neurobiological differences across populations potentially contribute to observed variation in social and communicative behaviors. I am also more broadly interested in the application of social cognitive neuroscience research to clinical practice in developing more effective treatment and rehabilitation strategies. I currently assist on projects investigating the ability of infants and children to interpret, reason about, and respond to the social world.

Adele Luta - Research Affiliate

luta at mit dot edu

Advanced ToM and Strategic Cognitive Skills

Nir Jacoby - Lab Manager

jacobyn at mit dot edu

Lab Alumni

Hyowon Gweon - Post Doc


Theory of Mind and Causal Learning

Julianne Herts - Lab Manager / Pediatric fMRI Coordinator

Developmental Theory of Mind

Nick Dufour - Lab Manager

ndufour at stanford dot edu

Machine learning & data mining

Marina Bedny - Post Doc


Effects of developmental experience on abstract cognition.

Swetha Dravida - Undergraduate Researcher

Zeynep Saygin - Graduate Student


Attention and Emotional Regulation, Multi-modal imaging

Rebecca Nappa - Post Doc

Language Comprehension in Autism

Mina Cikara - Post Doc

Social Cognition

Hannah Pelton - Undergraduate Researcher

Developmental Theory of Mind

Jacqueline Pigeon - Undergraduate Researcher

Infant Cognition

Liane Young - Post Doc


Moral Judgment & Theory of Mind

James Dungan - Undergraduate Researcher

Human Moral Judgement

Elizabeth Redcay

Developmental cognitive neuroscience of typical and atypical communication

David Dodell-Feder

Theory of Mind in Clinical Populations

Alek Chakroff


Evelina Fedorenko

The effects of prosody on the listener's online representation of the speaker's thoughts

Roy Cohen

Agnieszka Pluta

Mike Frank

Social cues for word learning

Jon Scholz

Intelligence- knowlege representation and reasoning

Andrea Quintero

Modality and item independence of Theory of Mind activity in fMRI

Jess Andrews - Graduate Student

Theory of Mind and Episodic Memory Retrieval