The mission of Emory's Center for Mind, Brain and Culture (CMBC) is to foster inquiry, research, and teaching from multiple explanatory perspectives concerning issues and phenomena associated with mind, brain, and culture and their relations. Such interdisciplinary exchange will (1) inform faculty and student research, (2) contribute to curricula, and (3) lead to a wide variety of research projects that develop, explore, compare, and, when possible, integrate explanations from multiple analytical levels.
Gender Differences in Parenting
This collaborative discussion focuses on the complex question: How and why do parents interact differently with sons and daughters? We approach these questions with the assumption that gender differences in parenting are expressed and performed in everyday interactions between parents and children and shape how children come to understand what it means to be "male" or "female" in their culture. Dr. Fivush will share insights from her research on the social construction of gender in family narratives; Dr. Mascaro will discuss recent findings on gender differences in paternal behavior and brain responses to children. We will also discuss how the social construction of gender is influenced by biology, and we will discuss the evidence that these gender differences in parenting help children construct notions of gender and influence children's social and emotional development. (October 19, 2017)
A Tale of Intertwining Spectrums: Is There a Link Between Autistic Tendencies and Disbelief in Gods?
Are non-clinical populations high on the autistic spectrum less likely to "get" religion? Building on the first talk, I ask whether autism increases the odds of disbelief, as has been predicted by some cognitive theories of religious belief. Probing further, I ask whether this link is statistically explained by the selective deficits in theory of mind associated with the autistic spectrum. Next I explore whether gender differences in autism and theory of mind offer a novel, if partial, explanation for the well-documented gender gap in religious belief. Further, I present new research on links between the schizotypal spectrum in non-clinical populations – a cluster of traits partly characterized by a hyperactive theory of mind – and hyper-religiosity. This link in turn may offer insights into the psychological profile of the "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon.
Social Neuroscience and the Nature and Origin of Religious Experience
Recent attempts to use findings in neuroscience to inform our understanding of religious experience have focused on explaining the origins of religious activity and belief as potential byproducts of neural structures that evolved for, and were exapted from, other biological functions. Brain mechanisms implicated in attributing agency, detecting intentions, social reward, pro-social adaptation, and other aspects of social cognition have variously been proposed as potential pathways leading to the emergence of commonalities in religion and ritual across cultures. Conversely, conditions where those mechanisms are perturbed or impaired are potentially useful in testing new theories in neurotheology. Most proposals in this area have neglected the role of development and early experience in shaping neural function throughout the lifespan. This presentation will provide an overview of recent research in developmental social neuroscience, in the context of autism, in order to explore the extent to which social cognition in general and neurodevelopmental disorders in particular may or may not be able to shed light on religiosity. This talk was presented as part of the CMBC 2017 Summer Workshop.
Social Cognition, Theory of Mind, and Belief in Gods
For a given person to believe in a deity or deities, she must (a) be able to form intuitive mental representations of supernatural agents; (b) be motivated to commit to supernatural agents (and related rituals) as real and relevant sources of meaning and control; and (c) have received specific cultural inputs that, of all the supernatural agents or forces one could possibly think of, one or more specific deities should be believed in and committed to. In this talk, I present these interrelated hypotheses from the new cognitive science of religion and the science of cultural evolution in light of the growing evidence from diverse fields. I also present new research about belief in karma in relation to cognitive theories. Throughout the talk I explore the current controversies and debates about the social cognitive and cultural learning capacities that make human beings a believing species.
This talk was presented as part of the 2017 CMBC Summer Workshop.
Gods in Disorder: Schizophrenia, Religious Experience, and Hearing Voices
The cognitive science of religion (CSR) illuminates similar features of experience that arise in religious settings and that are associated with some mental disorders. We endorse explanatory pluralism, the view that cross-scientific investigations are enriched by integrating theory, methods, and evidence from multiple analytical levels, and ecumenical naturalism, which holds that:
(1) examining features of experiences in different mental disorders and similar features of religious experiences will offer insights about underlying mental systems that figure in both,
(2) CSR’s by-product theory maintains that religious experiences rely on cultural triggers of maturationally natural mental systems that underpin various ordinary experiences, and
(3) CSR’s methods, theories, and findings will provide leverage for explaining many similar features of mental disorders.
Schizophrenics and some Christians not only hear voices but attribute those experiences to agents other than themselves. An examination of experiencing voices in schizophrenia and experiencing God’s voice suggests that they rely on the same mental systems and cognitive dispositions. Whether in mental disorders or in religions, these include:
*experiencing a person’s own self-conception in narrative terms
*(automatic) linguistic processing
*(automatic) attributions of agency and mind
*(intrinsic or extrinsic disruptions in) source monitoring
*filling-in agents (whether via culturally available resources or not)
Exploring Sleep as a Mediator between Ethnic/Racial Discrimination and Adolescent Academic and Psychosocial Outcomes
The negative academic and health effects of ethnic/racial discrimination are robust and pervasive. Taking a biopsychosocial approach, the current study combines actigraphy with a daily diary design to explore sleep duration and quality as an explanatory link between discrimination and outcomes. In a sample of 189 ethnic/racially diverse 9th grade adolescents, the study first assessed the daily impact of discrimination on next-day academic engagement and mood. Second, the study explored sleep as a mediating pathway between discrimination and outcomes. This paper contributes to two timely, yet independent, developmental science literatures. First, the study contributes to a growing literature on how social experiences of discrimination may be embodied psychophysiologically to contribute to ethnic/racial academic and health disparities. Second, the study contributes to the burgeoning science of sleep and its importance for youth development. Intersecting these literatures, the study found that on days in which youths reported unfair ethnic/racial treatment, they also spent more minutes awake after falling asleep. In turn, sleep disturbance was associated with feeling more anxious and less academically engaged the next day. Together, the data support a temporal mediated pathway wherein discrimination is associated with same-evening sleep disturbance, which is then predictive of next-day outcomes. The developmental implications of the observed daily-level associations are profound. Over time, the downstream effects of everyday discrimination may contribute to persistent academic and health disparities.