Psychology and neuroscience at TED

Ella Rhodes reports on the line up for Vancouver 2015.

This month’s TED conference in Vancouver will feature a number of talks from eminent neuroscientists speaking around the theme Truth and Dare. The global Technology, Entertainment and Design events have gathered a vast following with their free online talks and draw together a vast array of scientists, thinkers, artists and musicians.

Among those speaking this year will be neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott (University College London). Scott is Deputy Director of the university’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and her research focuses on the neurological basis of communication, including speech and vocalised emotion. During her research into laughter she has made some unexpected discovery, including that the one almost guaranteed way to get someone to laugh is to show them another person laughing. Professor Scott puts her knowledge to good use as an occasional stand-up comedian with UCL’s Bright Club. She said: ‘I am surprised, delighted and honoured to have this opportunity. I really enjoy planning and giving talks and I sincerely desire to do this as well as possible.’

Speaking in a session titled ‘What are we thinking?’ is neuroscientist and acclaimed author of short story collection Sum, David Eagleman. In a career including research into time perception, brain plasticity and neurolaw, Eagleman has also worked on a six-part TV series The Brain, which will air in autumn. Some of his most recent research looks into technology that bypasses sensory impairments, including a smartphone-controlled vest that translates sound into patterns of vibration for the deaf.

Donald Hoffman, also speaking in the ‘What are we thinking?’ session, is a cognitive scientist who studies how our visual perception guides our everyday reality. He is a faculty member at UC Irvine and a recipient of the Troland Award of the US National Academy of Sciences. ‘To put it simply,’ the TED website says, ‘we actively create everything we see, and there is no aspect of reality that does not depend on consciousness.’

Another cognitive scientist to speak at the event will be Laura Schulz (MIT), whose developmental behaviour studies are exploring how children learn. Schulz is the university’s lead investigator of the Early Childhood Cognition Lab and her work bridges computational models of cognitive development and behavioral studies in order to understand the origins of inquiry and discovery. She works in play labs, children’s museums, and on a recently-launched citizen science website. Schulz has uncovered surprising results, including that before the age of four, children expect hidden causes when events happen probabilistically, use simple experiments to distinguish causal hypotheses, and trade off learning from instruction and exploration.

TED Vancouver runs from 16-20 March.

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber