The Being Human Conference, which looks at the science behind the human experience, explores the interaction among individuals, society's morals and culture."
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2006. His research focuses on correlating emotional states with the brain activity underlying them. Davidson has reached the conclusion that our brain circuitry isn't set in stone: though our emotions are evolved responses, they are remarkably plastic and can be shaped over time. As he says, "I think that what modern neuroscience is teaching us is that, in fact, there is a lot of plasticity, that change is indeed possible, and the evidence is more and more strongly in favor of the importance of environmental influences in shaping brain function and structure and even shaping the expression of our genes." At the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, Davidson and other researchers investigate qualities of mind such as compassion and mindfulness in order to understand how healthy minds might be cultivated. He is perhaps most famous for his investigations into the neurological effects of meditation, showing how this practice can functionally rewire the brain. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
Paul Ekman is a pioneering psychologist in the study of emotions and facial expressions, and was named one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century by the American Psychological Association. Ekman is most famous for his research establishing that nonverbal communication of emotions is not a cultural phenomenon but a universal one. Through his study of facial expressions, Ekman has substantiated Darwin's theory that human emotions are an evolved, biological response shared throughout cultures worldwide. On their importance in our lives, Ekman states, "Emotions can override…the more powerful fundamental motives that drive our lives: hunger, sex, and the will to survive." Ekman has also contributed to the study of microexpressions, involuntary facial expressions that occur when someone is attempting to conceal their true feelings. Microexpressions offer further evidence that emotional responses are indeed hardwired and universal. His system of reading these emotions gave rise to the crime drama television series Lie to Me, starring a character based on Ekman. In 2012, he spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
Anne Harrington is Professor and former Chair of the History of Science at Harvard University, specializing in the history of psychiatry, neuroscience, and the other mind and behavioral sciences. Professor Harrington received her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Oxford University, and has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, and the University of Freiburg in Germany. For six years, she co-directed Harvard's Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative. She also was a consultant for the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Mind-Body Interactions. Currently she serves on the Board of the Mind and Life Institute, an organization dedicated to cross-cultural dialogue between Buddhism and the science. She is also a former founding editor of Biosocieties, a journal concerned with social science approaches to the life sciences.
Professor Harrington is the author of three books: Medicine, Mind and the Double Brain (1987), Reenchanted Science (1997) and The Cure Within; A History of Mind-Body Medicine (2008). She has also published many articles and produced a range of edited collections including The Placebo Effect (1997), Visions of Compassion (2000), and The Dalai Lama at MIT (2006).
She is currently working on a new general audience book that uses small-scale historical narrative - intimate human stories across time -- to help people make sense of the big-scale issues that define modern psychiatry, broadly understood. Other research interests include the history of the neurological case history, and especially changing interests in the "inner world" of brain disorder; and the origins and larger significance of current visions of partnership between Buddhism and science.
Hazel Rose Markus is the Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Her research examines how the self regulates behavior and how the self is shaped by the social world. This work shows how the self-system organizes perception, reasoning and memory and reveals the constructive role of the self throughout the life course.
In experimental and survey studies, she studies how the self and other psychological processes are grounded in cultural and social contexts, including region of the world, region of the country, social class, race, religion and gender. Her work reveals that the Western conception of the self as a bounded entity separate from others is by no means universal.
She received her B.A. from California State University at San Diego and her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994 and in 2008 received the American Psychological Association's award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution. She has served as co-director and director of Stanford's Research Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). She is co-author of Culture and Emotion: Their Mutual Influence; Engaging Cultural Differences: The Multicultural Challenge in Liberal Democracies; Just Schools: Pursuing Equality in Societies of Difference; Doing Race: 21 Essays for the 21st Century; and the forthcoming, Where to Find Your Self: The Surprising Story of the Cultures that Make You and the Cultures You Make.
Fundamental dispositions and traits of humans. Theories about the nature of humankind form a part of every culture. In the West, debate has traditionally centred on whether humans are selfish and competitive (seeThomas Hobbes; John Locke) or social and altruistic (Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim). Recent research in genetics, evolutionary biology, and cultural anthropology suggests that humans may be both, and that there is a complex interaction between genetically inherited factors (nature) and developmental and social factors (nurture). Basic drives shared with other primates include food, sex, security, play, and social status. Gender differences include greater investment in reproduction and child-rearing among females, hence less risk-taking; and concomitantly less investment and greater risk-taking among males. See alsobehaviour genetics; Homo sapiens; personality; philosophical anthropology; sociobiology.