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Steven Platek

Psychology, Georgia Gwinnett College
Research Associate, Magnetic Resonance Image and Analysis Center, University of Liverpool

Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience: The Newest Science of the Mind

Friday, February 27, 2009
Engineering Building 110, 4:00 PM


Since Darwin and the Neosynthesis we have known that evolution has shaped all organisms and that biological organs—including the brain and the highly crafted animal nervous system—are subject to the pressures of natural and sexual selection. It is only relatively recently, however, that the cognitive neurosciences have begun to apply evolutionary theory and methods to the study of brain and behavior. Evolutionary cognitive neuroscience encompasses all areas of cognitive neuroscience investigations, from nonhuman brain-behavior relationships to human cognition and consciousness in a similar manner that evolutionary psychology does with behavior. Evolutionary cognitive neuroscience is in the unique position to identify the underlying neural mechanisms that drive so-called evolved cognitive/psychological adaptations and test theories of modularity versus generality at the level of the brain. Here I will discuss the inception of evolutionary cognitive neuroscience and describe a series of ongoing studies that are poised to be crucial in our understanding of the evolved nature of the nervous system.

We Like the Look of Look-A-Likes: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Impression Formation

Science 3, Room 214, Noon

The formation of social bonds, including mating arrangements, is driven in large part by our ability to quickly and accurately form an impression about others. For example, when choosing a mate we need to determine whether they posses reproductively viable and compatible genetic material necessary to produce optimally fit offspring. This permeates, albeit unconsciously, our decisions about whom to mate and whom to date, as well as whom to befriend. In each of these instances quick and accurate decisions about trustworthiness are paramount. In the absence of accurate information about trustworthiness, one may fall victim to free-riding, deceit, cuckoldry, and even abuse. Thus, evolution likely favored the development of multiple and redundant trustworthiness decision-making systems. I will discuss recent research demonstrating the behavioral and neural correlates associated with trustworthiness. My team and I have demonstrated that facial morphology can predict whether a person is trusted, found attractive, and even if they are inherently trustworthy or deceitful (i.e. psychopathic). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we have also shown that impression formation across several social domains (sex/love, untruths, and trustworthiness) share common neural architecture. Interestingly, impression formations are accounted for in large part by whether a face resembles our own. These findings suggest that facial features honestly signal several socially important behavioral characteristics and that evolution favored brain machinery that was equipped to detect such subtle variations.


Steven M Platek, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College and also holds an adjunct appointment as Associate Research at the Magnetic Resonance Image and Analysis Center (MARIARC) at the University of Liverpool. He conducts research in the area of evolutionary and social cognitive neuroscience. Currently, he is involved in projects that attempt to map the behavioral and neural correlates of social exclusion, impression formation, variances in eating behavior, and in-/out-group dynamics. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief of Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, Associate Editor and Managing Editor of Evolutionary Psychology, and Associate Editor of Personality and Individual Differences. He also serves on the editorial boards of The Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology; Human Nature; The Open Ecology Journal; The Open Neuroimaging Journal, and Scientific Research and Essays. He has edited 3 academic volumes: Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty (2006, Cambrige University Press), Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience (2007, MIT Press), and Foundations in Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience (forthcoming – 2009, Cambridge University Press) and has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles and chapters.


  1. Where Evolutionary Psychology meets Cognitive Neuroscience: A précis to Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience

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Seminar Audio

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