Functional scan imaging and other technologies are providing us with direct access to brain processes. Mapping the activity and structure of the brain has given us unprecedented insight into human nature: we can watch the brain develop and respond to stimuli, and see how a mind can flourish, learn, and imagine. We can also observe how our minds can be damaged by the trauma and neglect that lead to impaired thinking and behavior.
Through decades of research, we are beginning to understand how a human mind makes sense of outside reality: how we process, categorize, and distort sensory information and apply interpretations to help us function in the world and cope with new challenges and unfamiliar situations.
Much of this new understanding contradicts or eclipses previous assumptions about human nature espoused by theology, philosophy, and economics.
Cognitive and Social neuroscientists are approaching some of the most ineffable aspects of human experience, pinpointing areas of the brain that are activated during moral dilemmas and decision-making, and discovering which regions induce mystical or transcendent experiences when stimulated with magnetic fields.
Some of the most exciting brain and behavior research concerns how people form beliefs, bias, and dogmatic ideas.
In today’s world, where polarized beliefs clash with each other and re-enforce extremism on all fronts, this field is of concern to all of us, especially those trying to solve intractable problems and help the next generation of children thrive.
Watching our brains respond to imagery and “tag” things as significant, sheds light on how our opinions are formed at a deeper, mostly unconscious level, and then demonstrates how our minds immediately find or manufacture logical rationalizations to explain our decisions and preferences.
We are tracking how the mind creates categories and how the brain can distort perceptions and memory leading to false assumptions about other people.
Neuroscience is shedding new light on the social psychology of group think, crowd influence, peer pressure, denial, projection, conformity and obedience, the effects of group membership, stigma and status, and how dehumanization can lead to cruelty and injustice toward disempowered groups.