Name: Bob Spunt
Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, California Institute of Technology

University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D.

University of California, Los Angeles, M.A.

University of California, Berkeley, B. A.


SOCIAL COGNITION AND BEHAVIOR UNDERSTANDING Other human beings are at once the most important and complex stimuli we face in our environment. The human body alone is a complex visual form that moves in unpredictable ways as it navigates in and on the physical environment around it. Yet the body is just the tip of the iceberg, the visible manifestation of an invisible mental life that explains and contextualizes the body's behavior. How is it that we understand others as not just moving bodies but as people, with unique perspectives of their surroundings, with invisible psychological characteristics disposing them to behave some ways but not others, and with a wide range of beliefs, motives and intentions? Put another way, how is our sensory representation of a body attributed to a representation of a mind? My research on social cognition is concerned with how the brain achieves this attribution of body to mind. I have focused on the contributions of two separate cortical brain systems, the so-called mirror and mentalizing systems (Frith & Frith, 2003; Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). I use functional MRI to study these systems in the context of behavior understanding. So far, my work has focused on characterizing the roles these systems make in understanding motor behaviors, such as goal-directed actions (Spunt, Falk & Lieberman, 2010; Spunt, Satpute & Lieberman, 2011) and emotional facial expressions (Spunt & Lieberman, 2010).

METACOGNITIVE EXPERIENCE I also investigate the psychological states and processes that cause, characterize and result from cognitive control (sometimes called executive control), which refers to the act of exerting control over mental processes. Cognitive control supports a variety of mental acts, such as inhibiting a response, solving a problem, or making a decision. Each of these is traditionally characterized as cold, calculating, and passionless. However, the phenomenology of each of these activities features metacognitive experiences, feelings about our own processes of thought and self-control (Schwarz, 2004). In this line of research, I am using behavioral and neuroimaging methods to investigate metacognitive experiences in the domains of response inhibition, problem-solving, and decision-making.