Jean Decety - Biography#

Dr. Jean Decety is Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. He is the head of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. Decety is a leading scholar on the social neuroscience of empathy, morality and prosocial behavior, as well as other topics related to the neurobiology of social cognition. His work has led to new understandings of affective processes and moral cognition in typically developing children and adults, as well as criminal psychopaths. His research uses neuroimaging techniques (functional MRI and high-density EEG), eye-tracking, behavioral experiments and behavioral economics methods.

Personal Statement

Humans evolved with psychological motives such as self-interest and prosociality. How can one person be generous, helpful, and cooperative, and yet also be self-absorbed, rude, or even abusive? What neurobiological and psychological mechanisms guide social decision-making and moral reasoning? How do these abilities develop in children, and how are they shaped by life experiences, resource scarcity, and group dynamics? Why do some people develop strong moral convictions that can lead to extreme political attitudes, including support for political violence? I investigate these real-world questions with the multi-level approach that characterizes social neuroscience, using structural and functional MRI, high-density EEG/ERP, eye-tracking, and behavioral economics in children and adults. I am also interested in how prosociality has been molded by an interaction between genes and culture. Therefore, I examine the development of moral behavior, social decision-making, and distributive justice in children in South East Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, and South Africa. To encourage human cooperation on a global level, I believe that our naturally emerging prosocial tendencies, which are further cultivated by parents and social institutions, are best balanced with a healthy dose of reasoning. Finally, I highly value teaching as it encourages me to think about the long road, the big picture, and find meaningful links with other disciplines such as biology, economics, mental health, education, sociology and political science.

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