The Social Brain: A Hypothesis Space for Understanding Autism

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Simons Foundation Lectures are free public colloquia related to basic science and mathematics. These high-level talks are intended for professors, students, postdocs and business professionals, but interested people from the metropolitan area are welcome as well.
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Humans are a highly social species, allocating numerous brain regions to distinct aspects of social cognition. These regions and corresponding mental abilities serve as tools for understanding which functions are lost and which are preserved in autism.

Autism is characterized by a highly uneven cognitive profile in which some mental functions are preserved or enhanced, whereas others are disrupted. An important asset in the search to understand this complex disorder comes from the study of the typical human mind and brain. Behavioral, developmental and neural data from control subjects support a modular architecture, with distinct cognitive functions implemented in distinct cognitive and neural mechanisms. In this talk, Nancy Kanwisher will consider the functional architecture of the social brain in typical subjects as an avenue for considering which functions are affected and which are preserved in autism.

If this lecture is videotaped, it will be posted here after production.

About the Speaker

Nancy Kanwisher is a professor in the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an investigator at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. After receiving her B.S. and Ph.D. from MIT, Kanwisher served on the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Harvard, before returning to MIT in 1997. Kanwisher has received the Troland Research Award, MacVicar Faculty Fellow teaching award and Golden Brain Award. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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