Robert Trivers: “Deceit and Self-Deception”

Robert Trivers, Rutgers Biologist and Anthropologist: “Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling others the better to fool ourselves.” Thursday, 11/3, 12-1 pm, Austin West; SALMS serves lunch: Free Burritos!

Why do we deceive ourselves so often in our daily lives?  Robert Trivers, Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, argues that  self-deception evolved in the service of deceit—the better to fool others. We do it for biological reasons—in order to help us survive and procreate. From viruses mimicking host behavior to humans misremembering (sometimes intentionally) the details of a quarrel, science has proven that the deceptive one can always outwit the masses. But we undertake this deception at our own peril.  Trivers will present findings from his new book, “The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life.”

Trivers won the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences in 2007 for his fundamental analysis of social evolution, conflict, and cooperation. Harvard’s Steven Pinker has described Trivers as an “under-appreciated genius”: “In an astonishing burst of creative brilliance, Trivers wrote a series of papers in the early 1970s that explained each of the five major kinds of human relationships: male with female, parent with child, sibling with sibling, acquaintance with acquaintance, and a person with himself or herself. . . . Trivers’ ideas are, if such a thing is possible, even more important than the countless experiments and field studies they kicked off. They belong in the category of ideas that are obvious once they are explained, yet eluded great minds for ages; simple enough to be stated in a few words, yet with implications we are only beginning to work out.”

Couple of MBB Events

Two MBB events to be aware of:

1. November 9, 4pm, Room 1, William James Hall, Evo-Devo Seminar Series, featuring Dr. Jay Belsky
Childhood Experience and the Development of Reproductive Strategies: An Evolutionary Theory of Socialization Revisited

2. HSMBB will be holding its fall symposium on Monday, November 14th, from 4-5:30 p.m. in William James Hall room 105. The theme is discovering the science behind sleeping, dreaming, and learning, and the event will include three speakers:
—- James Quattrochi (MCB) on Study Habits: and Sleep: A Case Study
—- Robert Stickgold (HMS) on The Role of Sleep in Learning
—- Deirdre Barrett, (HMS) on Dreaming, Creativity, and Problem-Solving

Upcoming MBB events

Hello fellow mind, brain, and behavior enthusiasts!

Hope everyone has had an enjoyable weekend (perhaps watching rowers and/or snagging freebies).

Mark your calendars because we’ve got a nice seminar combo for y’all – MCB 80’s Jeff Lichtman (tomorrow @ 4-5pm) and Josh Sanes (11/1 @ 5-6pm) will be hosting seminars on back-to-back weeks. They are both really cool people to talk to, so don’t miss out!

Also be on the look-out for a nice opportunity to learn about dreaming with sleep expert, Robert Stickgold (11/1 @ 7pm) after watching a movie that potentially does dreams-within-dreams even better than Inception.

And as a teaser: a certain Daniel Dennett may or may not be joining us on November 7th.

Richard, Jennifer, and the HSMBB board

Join the Harvard Society for Mind, Brain and Behavior for:

Behind MCB 80: The Neurobiology of Synaptic Competition, with Professor Jeff Lichtman
This Monday, October 24th, 4-5 pm
Barker Center 114 (The Kresge Room)

Professor Jeff Lichtman is one of the two professors of the popular introductory class MCB 80: Neurobiology of Behavior.

Join us to meet the man behind the lectures! This is a great chance to learn about neurobiology and synapses in an intimate setting.

Professor Jeff Lichtman is interested in the mechanisms that underlie synaptic competition between neurons that innervate the same target cell. Such competitive interactions are responsible for sharpening the patterns of neural connections during development and may also be important in learning and memory formation. His laboratory studies synaptic competition by visualizing synaptic rearrangements directly in living animals using modern optical imaging techniques. They have concentrated on neuromuscular junctions in a very accessible neck muscle in mice where new transgenic animals and other labeling strategies allow individual nerve terminals and postsynaptic specializations to be monitored over hours or months. In addition, they have developed several new methods to improve our ability to resolve synaptic structure.

To learn more about HSMBB join our mailing list here.

And coming soon is a seminar with Professor Joshua Sanes, the other professor of MCB 80! He will be joining HSMBB on Tuesday, November 1st from 5-6 in the Barker Center’s Plimpton Room.


Science on Screen Presents:
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with guest speaker Robert Stickgold, PhD
Coolidge Corner Theatre
Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Winner of the 1972 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the National Society of Film Critics’ Best Picture prize, Luis Buñuel’s surrealist masterpiece wickedly skewers bourgeois presumption and hypocrisy as a group of well-to-do friends repeatedly attempts to have a meal together, only to be interrupted by a series of increasingly bizarre events, both real and imagined.

No one in cinema handled dreams better than Buñuel, and here, he interweaves flashbacks, dreams, and dreams within dreams into his wickedly comic narrative. Joining us before the film to discuss the science of dreaming is Robert Stickgold. How does the latest research advance our understanding of where dreams come from? How do dreams contribute to the off-line reprocessing of newly formed memories? Are Freud’s theories dead?

Dr. Stickgold is associate professor of psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and HarvardMedical School, where he is the director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition. His research examines the nature of sleep and dreams from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, with an emphasis on the role of sleep and dreams in memory processing.

Tickets are $7.75 for students and Museum of Science members, and $9.75 general admission. Coolidge Corner Theatre members get in for free. For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit Tickets are also available at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, located at 290 Harvard Street in Brookline. Phone: 617-734-2501.

MBB – A Neurologist’s portrait of van Gogh


Get excited and get classy – our first CommuniTea is coming up this Friday! These teas are designed to allow for a more leisurely and informal discussion with professors as well as a way of getting to know some of your fellow MBB students.

This week, we are delighted to have Professor Khoshbin, who will be joining us to talk about van Gogh and his possible neurological disorder:

Join the Harvard Society for Mind, Brain and Behavior for a CommuniTea!

This Friday, the 21st, 4-5pm come to Lowell Small Dining Hall

to chat with
Prof. Shah Khoshbin

while munching on delicious cookies and drinking tea,
and learn about his fascinating ideas on…

“A Neurologist’s portrait of van Gogh”

Professor Khoshbin is an Associate Professor of Neurology at HMS, chair of Currier’s premed program, and a wonderful teacher all around! (5.0 Q scores anyone?). Prof. Khoshbin studied fine arts in Beirut before his esteemed journey into medicine and teaching, and has some quite mesmerizing ideas about why van Gogh uses certain color combinations that draw millions of visitors to his canvases every year.
Recommended if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam: Visit the van Gogh museum! Over 200 of his artworks!!

Hope to see you there!
Jennifer, Richard, and the HSMBB Board

MBB presents “The Neuroscience of Zombies (and How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse)”

In preparation for Halloween (and, more practically speaking, the zombie apocalypse), Professor Schlozman will be dissecting the cinematic zombie to flesh out select aspects of functional and behavioral neuroscience; the subject of brain-hungry animated bodies may bode well for animated discussions on brains!

You can also expect 8 easy tips to help you survive the next zombie attack you experience. (Without this advice, you better hope that zombies chasing you are vegetarian).

Hope to see you there!
Richard, Jennifer, and the HSMBB board

The Harvard Society for Mind, Brain, and Behavior presents…
“The Neuroscience of Zombies (and How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse)”

An HSMBB seminar event presented by 

Professor Steve Schlozman, with special guest Director Howard Ford

Monday, October 17 from 4:30-5:30PM

Location TBA

Zombies have become a recent phenomenon in popular culture. How does a perfectly healthy human transform into a lifeless zombie? What do zombies teach us about ourselves and the importance of human connection and emotion? Come learn about how we can understand neuroscience, problems associated with neurodegenerative disorders, and the importance of mirror neurons through studying zombies!

Professor Steve Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of the book The Zombie Autopsies: The Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse (currently being turned into a screenplay with the help of a certain George Romero), is a dynamic speaker whose talk could potentially save you from a zombie attack.

Howard Ford, the director of the highly acclaimed zombie movie, “The Dead”,  ( will also be present.

SALMS Speakers Series: Richard Wrangham

Richard Wrangham, “Sexual Disparities and the Evolution of Patriarchy,” Wednesday, October 12, Noon, Austin West

What can primates teach us about the evolutionary bases of rape, murder, and patriarchy? For several decades, Richard Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, has studied primates in the wild. His work on the ecological and behavior comparisons of chimpanzees and humans has been his greatest contribution to the animal behavior literature. His insights into the cultural similarities between humans and chimpanzees–including our unique tendencies to form murderous alliances and engage in recreational sexual activity–has had profound affects on how scientists analyze primate behavior, non-human and human alike. In addition to his exhaustive peer-reviewed journal publications, as author of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, Chimpanzee Cultures, and as co-editor of Primate Societies, Professor Wrangham’s important observations and theoretical contributions to the field of primate socio-behavior are covered in a variety of works, which range from the textbook to popular science manual. In recent years, Professor Wrangham has been named as a trustee to several important primatological research organizations, including the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Jane Goodall Institute and is Chair of the Great Ape World Heritage Species Project.

SALMS Speakers Series: Dr. Steven Hyman

Dr. Steven E. Hyman, “Addiction as a Window into Volition,” Tuesday, 9/27, 12-1 pm, Pound 101

How should the law confront the “choices” of an addict? Though neuroscience research into addiction has advanced dramatically, few lessons have been incorporated into legal doctrine.  Dr. Steven Hyman, former Harvard Provost and founding member of the Governing Board of the Project on Law and Neuroscience, will present recent neuroscience findings to shed light on the legal concepts of addiction and self-control.

After leading the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from 1996–2001, Dr. Hyman served as Provost of Harvard University from 2001–2011. Prior to his position at NIMH, Dr. Hyman was Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Psychiatry Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He also taught neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and was the first faculty Director of Harvard University’s Interfaculty Initiative in Mind, Brain and Behavior. Dr. Hyman received his B.A. from Yale in 1974 (summa cum laude) and his M.A. from the University of Cambridge in 1976, where he was a Mellon fellow studying the history and philosophy of science. He received his M.D. from Harvard Medical School (cum laude) in 1980. Following an internship in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a residency in psychiatry at McLean Hospital and a clinical fellowship in neurology at MGH, he was postdoctoral fellow at Harvard in molecular biology. Dr. Hyman is currently a
scholar in residence in the Psychiatric Disease Program at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

Tuesday, Sept. 13: SALMS Speakers Series – Edward P. Schwartz

Happy academic new year! The Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences, or as you affectionately know it, SALMS, kicks off its fall Speakers Series this upcoming Tuesday, September 13 when Edward P. Schwartz will present his talk: “Facing the Fearful Jury: Terror Management Theory in the Courtroom” in Pound 101 at noon.
As part of our campus remembrance on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, SALMS invited Mr. Schwartz, a nationally recognized jury consultant, to share his insights into the psychology of juries in terrorism trials, with a particular emphasis on the upcoming trial of Tarek Mahenna in Boston federal court. Anyone interested in trial litigation, jury psychology, or the law of terrorism should particularly enjoy Tuesday’s talk. Check out Mr. Schwartz’s blog entry about the talk at, and see a full description below.
Come for the talk, for the community, and for the free lunch – by popular demand, SALMS will again serve free Felipe’s burritos this year!
Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) Speakers Series:
Edward P. Schwartz, “Facing the Fearful Jury: Terror Management Theory in the Courtroom”
Tuesday, 9/13, 12-1pm, Pound 101
SALMS serves lunch: Free Burritos!
Ten years later, how do memories of 9/11 affect jury behavior in a terrorism trial? In a Boston federal court in October, Tarek Mahenna, a Massachusetts pharmacist, faces charges of conspiring to materially support terrorism by attempting to plan a number of unsuccessful attacks, including an assault at a shopping mall. Edward P. Schwartz will draw upon his expertise as a jury consultant to explain the psychological factors at work in such a trial. Mr. Schwartz, PhD, MSL, is a nationally recognized expert on jury behavior and decision-making. In addition to his trial consulting practice, Dr. Schwartz has published numerous articles about the American Jury System in law reviews and peer reviewed journals, and has taught about juries and jury trials to both undergraduates and law students at Harvard, Yale and Boston University. He is the Chair of the Pro Bono Publico Committee of the American Society of Trial Consultants and has volunteered his services on numerous criminal cases in Massachusetts. Dr. Schwartz is also the first trial consultant to receive court-ordered funds in Massachusetts and become a recognized CPCS vendor. He also publishes The Jury Box, a blog devoted to jury-related issues, which can be found at

Tentative SALMS Speaker Series Schedule, Fall 2011

It's almost fall . . . SALMS is excited to announce its tentative schedule for the Fall 2011 Speaker Series! Below, see confirmed speakers, the dates of their talks, and a very brief description (that certainly does not do their exceptional scholarship and topics justice). All listed talks are slated to begin at noon. Stay tuned for updates, locations, and additional speakers!

  • September 13: Edward P. Schwartz. Tuesday, noon, Pound 101. Schwartz, a nationally recognized jury consultant, will speak about psychology and jury decision-making. The talk will focus on terrorism trials after September 11th, especially the case of Tarek Mahenna, whose trial is scheduled to begin in Boston in October.
  • September 27: Steven Hyman. Tuesday, noon, Pound 101. Dr. Hyman, the former Provost of Harvard University, is a visiting scholar at the Broad Institute who specializes in molecular neuroscience, molecular biology, and psychiatry. The talk will cover recent advances in law and neuroscience scholarship and preview the future of the field.
  • October 12: Richard Wrangham. Wednesday, noon, Austin West. Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, where he studies primatology. The talk will consider the evolutionary roots of sexual violence by explaining lessons learned from chimpanzees.
  • October 28: Robert Trivers. Trivers studies social evolution, the evolution of selfish genetic elements, and deceit as Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University. The talk will focus on the evolutionary basis of self-deception and its implications for the law.
  • November 7: John Jost. Jost, Professor of Psychology at NYU, is known for his work on system justification theory and on the psychological basis of political ideology. The talk will explore the underlying cognitive and motivational differences between liberals and conservatives.

Punishing Jaws – event today at noon

Today (Friday, April 1) at noon in Griswold 110, Adam Benforado and Geoff Goodwin will give a presentation called “Punishing Jaws: Experiments on Retribution Against Nonhuman Perpetrators.” There will be burritos for lunch and SALDF will bring desserts and drinks. Benforado and Goodwin’s description follows:

In 1386, when a sow bit a child in the face and arms, it was sentenced to be given matching injuries to its head and forelegs, garroted, and then hanged in the public square in Falaise.


In our current set of experiments, we set out to explore responsive harm directed at animal attackers as a means to better understand human intuitions about punishment.

Our project has four main goals. First, it aims to demonstrate more precise evidence of the role of retribution in punishment decisions, given that previous experiments have failed to adequately separate out retributive concerns from deterrence or incapacitation concerns. Second, it seeks to show how intuitions about retributive punishment extend to animals and how retribution directed at animals is not fundamentally different from that directed at humans. Third, it aims to document that retributive impulses are sensitive to outcome related information, as opposed to solely causal information or characteristics of the offender. Fourth, it aims to show that explicit support for the death penalty and lex talionis, the principle of “an eye for an eye,” predicts retributive punishment judgments in specific instances.