The following individuals represent a snapshot of the multitude of Carnegie Mellon researchers who are pioneers in the field of brain, mind and learning:
Marlene Behrmann, Ph.D.
George A. and Helen Dunham Cowan Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience
Co-Director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition
Behrmann is the co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), a joint project between Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh devoted to investigating the neural mechanisms that form the basis for human thought and action.
Despite the fact that visual scenes often contain multiple objects and people and that they may be viewed under difficult conditions such as poor lighting or unusual vantage points, humans can recognize the objects and individuals with amazing ease and accuracy. Behrmann’s research is concerned with understanding how this seemingly effortless process of perception is accomplished. Her lab investigates the psychological and neural bases of visual processing, with particular focus on the way in which the signals from the eye are transformed into meaningful and coherent percepts rapidly and efficiently by the brain. She adopts an interdisciplinary approach using a combination of computational, neuropsychological and functional imaging studies with normal and neurologically-impaired individuals.
Dr. Behrmann’s research accomplishments have been recognized internationally and she has received the Presidential Early Career Award for Engineering and Science, the APA Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contributions to Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience, the Early career award in Neuropsychology (American Psychological Foundation) and the Justine and Yves Sergent Award (University of Montreal). Dr Behrmann is a Fellow of the American Psychological Society and the Society for Experimental Psychologists and her research is generously funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Simons Foundation and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Justine Cassell, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost of Technology Strategy and Impact
Charles M. Geschke Director, Human-Computer Interaction Institute
Justine Cassell joined Carnegie Mellon University in 2010 as director of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute in the School of Computer Science. A member of the faculty at Northwestern University from 2003 to 2010, she was the founding director of its Center for Technology and Social Behavior, and before that was a tenured professor in the MIT Media Lab.
Her research interests originated in the study of human-human conversation and storytelling. Interested in allowing computational systems to participate in these activities, she deconstructed the linguistic elements of conversation and storytelling in such a way as to embody machines with conversational, social and narrative intelligence. She is credited with developing the Embodied Conversational Agent — a virtual human capable of interacting with people using both verbal and non-verbal behavior. Her research has come to address the impact and benefits of technologies such as these on learning and communication.
Cassell held the AT&T Research Chair at Northwestern beginning in 2006 and was honored in 2008 with the “Women of Vision” award from the Anita Borg Institute.
David Creswell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychology
Director, Health and Human Performance Laboratory
David Creswell’s research focuses broadly on how the mind and brain influence
physical health and performance. Much of his work examines basic questions about stress and coping, and in understanding how these factors can be modulated throughstress reduction interventions.
In one line of research, Creswell is examining the stress pathways linking mindfulness meditation with improved health outcomes, and in understanding how the capacity to be mindful of one’s moment-to-moment experiences can improve adaptive responding. He is also examining how self-affirmation reduces stress and quiets ego-responding.
His work aims to explore the underlying psychological mechanisms by which people can adaptively cope with adversity and flourish in life’s pursuits. Creswell is a recipient of the American Psychological Association Early Career Award.
Lori Holt, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Lori Holt is an expert in auditory cognitive neuroscience, with a focus on understanding how humans interpret the complexity of spoken language. Her research program builds from considering human speech recognition as arising from general, and not uniquely human or speech-specific, mechanisms.
Her current research program has implications for critical periods in language development, for developmental disabilities involving language and for research on computer understanding of speech.
Holt is the recipient of a 21st Century Scientist Award for Mind, Brain and Behavior from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and her research has been recognized by awards from her peers at the Acoustical Society of America, the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association and the National Organization for Hearing Research. In 2007, the Association for Psychological Science named her a Rising Star in Psychology. Holt has been named a 2013 winner of the National Academy of Sciences Troland Research Award for "studies advancing our understanding of the sensory and cognitive processes that are fundamental to the perception of speech."
Marcel A. Just, Ph.D.
D. O. Hebb Professor of Psychology
Director, Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging
Marcel Just is a pioneer in using brain imaging (fMRI) in language and perception tasks to study the neural basis of human thought. Counted among his most important discoveries are identifying the “team play” among different brain areas, a theory that explains how the brain compensates for damage from injuries such as stroke by recruiting back up players; demonstrating that listening to someone speak while driving reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent, thus explaining why cell phones distract drivers; and using reading remediation to show the first evidence of rewiring the white matter of children’s brains—important for treating reading disabilities and other developmental disorders, including autism. Additionally, Just and his colleague Tom Mitchell, the Fredkin University Professor and head of the Machine Learning Department, used brain imaging to identify the content of thoughts of concrete objects, being able for the first time to read the minds of people in their scanner.
Currently, Just’s research is focused on understanding brain functioning in autism, continued work in thought identification, how to further improve brain communication and how much the human brain can handle at one time.
Just is the director of CMU’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging and Scientific Imaging and Brain Research Center.
Michael J. Tarr, Ph.D.
Professor and Head, Department of Psychology
Michael Tarr studies the neural, cognitive and computational mechanisms underlying visual perception and cognition. He is particularly interested in object and face recognition, how we become visual experts for non-face object domains, and how visual perception interacts with our other senses, with cognition, and with social and affective processing.
In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences recognized Tarr with the Troland Award, given annually to honor unusual achievement and further empirical research in psychology. In 1997, the American Psychological Association recognized Tarr with the APA Early Career Award. Tarr is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society of Experimental Psychologists.
Nathan Urban, Ph.D.
Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences
Head, Department of Biological Sciences
Nathan Urban investigates the molecular, cellular and computational properties of brain networks with a particular focus on the mouse olfactory system. Using a variety of experimental and computational techniques, Urban focuses on describing how biological properties of cells and their connections contribute to information processing. His work often relies on the construction of models that provide insight into how cellular properties give rise to more global brain functions, such as the synchronous neuronal firing that allows a mouse to sense an odor. Ultimately this work could help scientists understand how neurons network with one another in learning and disease.
In 2005, Scientific American magazine recognized Urban as one of the nation’s top 50 science and technology innovators. His work has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communications Disorders, the Human Frontiers Science Program and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.