What we do

Research in the SaxeLab is motivated by big questions: How does the human brain ‒ an electrical and biological machine ‒ construct abstract thoughts? What aspects of our brains and minds are universal, shared by all humans, and how much is specific to a culture, or unique to an individual? How do children’s brains change as they grow up? How do developmental disorders, like autism, affect brain development?

We often ask these questions about social cognition: how people think about people. We ask: how do people figure out what someone else knows, wants, or feels? How do they use that information to communicate or teach, to make moral judgements, or to exacerbate or repair conflicts? What brain regions are involved, and what specifically are they doing? How does this system work in adults, in children, and even in infants? How can computational models capture human observers’ sophisticated inferences about other people?

One of our core values is improving transparency and reproducibility of scientific research. We participate in the Open Science Reproducibility Project: Psychology, and in Many Babies. We share the stimuli from all of our studies on this website, along with results from our widely used Theory of Mind Localizer task; and we are increasingly sharing protocols through OSF, and fMRI data through OpenfMRI.

For people interested in participating

Our research is only possible because people help us out by letting us study their minds and brains. Here is where to learn more about:

  • Participating in research on brain development, with your infant or child
  • Participating in research relevant to Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Signing up to participate in a wide range of studies conducted at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department
  • You can also email the lab manager, Lyneé, directly to learn more.

    For researchers: our scientific projects

    We always have many specific projects going on in the lab, led by our fabulous lab members. These projects cover a wide range of topics and methods. Some examples include:

  • Building a computational model of human observers’ inferences of complex emotions
  • Measuring the development of cortical responses to faces in human infants
  • Developing better models of inter-regional interactions in fMRI data
  • Linking infants’ looking time to measures of regional brain activity with fNIRS
  • Testing whether individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder have disrupted brain responses to emotional faces
  • Comparing brain responses to social stories in individuals born deaf to signing or non-signing parents
  • Testing brain mechanisms underlying loss of empathy, and dehumanization, in intergroup conflict
  • Investigating the plasticity of the brain, in children born blind
  • Come work with us

    We often have open positions for undergraduate research assistants or volunteers. And once every year or two, we hire a new technical assistant or lab manager, a new graduate student, and a new post-doc. To work in our lab, you will need curiosity and commitment. A lot of the research we do requires computer skills, especially coding (e.g. MATLAB or python) and statistics (e.g. SPSS or R). We also need help doing outreach and education for families and communities.

    We are proud to be a diverse group of researchers: a mix of genders, nationalities, ethnicities, and ages, all working together on hard problems of the mind. Current and past lab members come from Canada, Korea, Chile, Mexico, Italy, UAE, Israel, Poland, Germany, Ireland, Bulgaria, Turkey, the Ukraine, Bosnia and others; some are visiting this country, some are immigrants, some are children of immigrants; some speak English as a first language and many don’t; some are white, some are African American, some are Latino, some are Native American, some are a complicated mix; some have been in foster care; some are blind, some are d/Deaf; one is a Marine. If you are passionate about science, you belong here.

    To get to know us better, you can:

  • Watch one of Rebecca’s recent talks here or here
  • Check out our photo album
  • Read one of our recent papers, on fMRI in human babies, or on models of emotion knowledge.
  • Specific job postings are sometimes linked here; but you can also contact us directly.