2019-2020 Series

Critical Thresholds: how having too much, or too little, affects the mind, brain, and behavior

Socioeconomic status and brain development: From science to policy

Socioeconomic status (SES) predicts many important life outcomes, from physical and mental health to academic achievement and cognitive ability.  Why is SES so influential?  Part of the answer lies in the relationship between SES and the brain. I will present research from my lab and others aimed at characterizing SES differences in brain structure and function.  I will then discuss the causes of these associations – by what mechanisms are they linked? – and their consequences – what roles do they play in the health and achievement disparities mentioned earlier?  Finally, I will consider whether and how the neuroscience of SES can help shape policies concerning children of low SES.

Too Much Confidence in Too Little Knowledge: Exemplifying How Awareness of our Limits Might Improve our Lives

A person’s knowledge is limited in many ways, but people often overestimate what they know. The profound limitations on knowledge, including being oblivious to what information is missing, will be illustrated with respect to my program of research on the limitation of working memory capacity to just a few independent, coherent thoughts at once and on working-memory development in childhood. I will also briefly describe how this research has contributed to a broader philosophical attitude suggesting that we could improve both our scientific work and our interpersonal relationships by trying to remain aware of our limitations.

The Illusion of Public Reason

Morality is something we feel more than think. This emerging view that judgments about right and wrong are grounded in emotion and intuition rather than principled reasoning has important implications for understanding political beliefs and behavior. In this talk, I present evidence that the differing moral intuitions of liberals and conservatives shape their reasoning in ways that lead each side to see their own moral vision as principled, logical, and effective and the other side’s vision as hypocritical, illogical, and counterproductive. Motivated reasoning cloaks moral conflict in a veneer of public reason (Rawls, 1971) such that politicians and pundits make data-based arguments for preferred policy positions that are little more than moral justifications wrapped in factual clothing. This tendency for people to confuse what they value with what they believe to be true is a key contributor to the corrosive political polarization that plagues contemporary American politics.

How Do Children Cope with and Adjust to Conflict and Discord Between Parents?

Children who witness high levels of conflict and discord between parents are at increased risk for a wide array of psychological difficulties. Questions remain as to specifically how, why, and when children experience coping and adjustment difficulties when they are exposed to interparental difficulties. In this presentation, I will address how greater theoretical and empirical precision may help to better characterize children’s adjustment to interparental discord. Specific emphasis will be placed on how children’s goal of preserving their emotional security advances an understanding of the diversity of outcomes they experience in the context of interparental conflict.