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We talk to Dr Molly Crockett, Sir Henry Wellcome Research Fellow in the Department of Experimental Psychology.

Extracted from Issue 11, July 2014 OxfordMedSci News.

What topics are you pursuing in your lab?

Dr Molly CrockettWe work on the neurobiology of human morality – what are the brain processes that enable us to care for the welfare of others?  How are these processes compromised in mental illness? And how do we learn about the moral character of other people? We do behavioural and brain imaging experiments to investigate these questions.

We are a small group of six (looking to grow) from a mix of backgrounds including psychology, philosophy and neuroscience

Why do you think this is important?

People are profoundly social, and so much of our well-being depends on having healthy social relationships. Our relationships, in turn, depend on mutual care and concern for one another. Social relationships are often disturbed in mental illness. Our work aims to develop better tools for understanding how and when social relationships succeed and fail in health and disease.

How did you get to where you are today?

My undergraduate mentor, Professor Matt Lieberman at UCLA, introduced me to the fascinating world of social neuroscience and I’ve been passionate about it ever since. From there I pursued PhD studies at Cambridge, supported by a Gates Scholarship, and trained with one of the world’s most eminent neuroscientists, Prof Trevor Robbins. The Wellcome Trust gave me the tremendous opportunity to spend my postdoctoral years collaborating with economists at the University of Zurich and neuroscientists at University College London working on human altruism. Together these experiences have provided me with a unique interdisciplinary approach to studying social cognition in health and disease.

What’s a typical day like in the lab?

Depends on the day! If we’re in a data collection phase, we’ll spend most of our time programming experiments and interacting with study volunteers. Other times we’ll be analyzing behaviour and brain imaging data, and writing about our findings for academic journals and public communication. We also travel quite a bit to present our work at conferences.

How has being at Oxford helped the work of your lab?

We’ve been very fortunate to be able to collaborate with philosophers at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Prof Julian Savulescu and Dr Guy Kahane, experts in the philosophy of ethics, enrich our research programme by engaging in conversations about the ethical implications of our work.



Twitter: @mollycrockett