Rebecca Saxe

Rebecca Saxe is a professor of cognitive neuroscience and associate department head at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. She is an associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and a board member of the Center for Open Science. She is known for her research on the neural basis of social cognition. She received her BA from Oxford University where she studied Psychology and Philosophy, and her PhD from MIT in Cognitive Science. She is the granddaughter of Canadian coroner and politician Morton Shulman.

Scientific contributionsEdit

As a graduate student, Saxe demonstrated that a brain region known as the right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ) is specifically activated by ‘theory of mind’ tasks that require understanding the mental states of other people.[1] She continues to study this brain region, and has recently demonstrated that rTPJ is involved in moral judgments; in a task where subjects hear stories and evaluate the permissibility of the characters’ behavior, disruption of the rTPJ causes subjects to place less weight on the character’s intentions, and greater weight on the actual outcomes of their actions.[2] Individuals with autism show a similar pattern of responses, suggesting a possible role for rTPJ in the etiology of autism.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

In addition to her work on theory of mind, Saxe also studies the plasticity of the cortex[9] and the neural substrates of empathy,[10] group conflict[11] and emotion attribution.[12]

Awards and recognitionEdit

Before joining the MIT faculty, Saxe was a junior fellow of Harvard University’s Society of Fellows. In 2008 she was named one of Popular Science Magazine’s “Brilliant 10” scientists under 40, and in 2012 the World Economic Forum named her a Young Global Leader. Her 2009 TED talk has been viewed more than 3.3 million times. Saxe was awarded the Troland Research Award by the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.


  1. ^ Saxe, R.; Kanwisher, N. (2003). "People thinking about thinking people. The role of the temporo-parietal junction in "theory of mind"". NeuroImage. 19 (4): 1835–1842. doi:10.1016/S1053-8119(03)00230-1. PMID 12948738. S2CID 206118958.
  2. ^ Young, L.; Camprodon, J. A.; Hauser, M.; Pascual-Leone, A.; Saxe, R. (2010). "Disruption of the right temporoparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces the role of beliefs in moral judgments". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107 (15): 6753–6758. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.6753Y. doi:10.1073/pnas.0914826107. PMC 2872442. PMID 20351278.
  3. ^ Moran, J. M.; Young, L. L.; Saxe, R.; Lee, S. M.; O'Young, D.; Mavros, P. L.; Gabrieli, J. D. (2011). "Impaired theory of mind for moral judgment in high-functioning autism". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (7): 2688–2692. Bibcode:2011PNAS..108.2688M. doi:10.1073/pnas.1011734108. PMC 3041087. PMID 21282628.
  4. ^ Levenson, Thomas (20 February 2013). "The Story of a Study of the Mind". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  5. ^ Humphries, Courtney (17 June 2014). "Hacking the Soul". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  6. ^ Rad, Roya $. (21 May 2013). "The Brain of a Spiteful Person". Huffington Post. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  7. ^ Lewis, Susan K. (1 January 2008). "The Ape That Teaches". Nova. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  8. ^ Mikulak, Anna (2011). "An Intergenerational Conversation Between Mahzarin R. Banaji and Rebecca Saxe". Vol. 24, no. 6. Observer. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  9. ^ Bedny, M.; Pascual-Leone, A.; Dodell-Feder, D.; Fedorenko, E.; Saxe, R. (2011). "Language processing in the occipital cortex of congenitally blind adults". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (11): 4429–4434. Bibcode:2011PNAS..108.4429B. doi:10.1073/pnas.1014818108. PMC 3060248. PMID 21368161.
  10. ^ Bruneau, E. G.; Pluta, A.; Saxe, R. (2012). "Distinct roles of the 'Shared Pain' and 'Theory of Mind' networks in processing others' emotional suffering". Neuropsychologia. 50 (2): 219–231. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.11.008. PMID 22154962. S2CID 17953611.
  11. ^ Bruneau, E. G.; Dufour, N.; Saxe, R. (2012). "Social cognition in members of conflict groups: Behavioural and neural responses in Arabs, Israelis and South Americans to each other's misfortunes". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 367 (1589): 717–730. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0293. PMC 3260847. PMID 22271787.
  12. ^ Saxe, R.; Houlihan, S. D. (2017). "Formalizing emotion concepts within a Bayesian model of theory of mind". Current Opinion in Psychology. 17: 15–21. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.04.019. PMC 5637274. PMID 28950962.

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