What Makes Us Human?

15nov1:00 pm5:00 pmWhat Makes Us Human?

Event Details

Humans share a long evolutionary history and most of their genetic make-up with other apes.  However, there are a number of physical, developmental and behavioral traits that are distinct to humans.  These differences have driven scientific research for decades, but now unprecedented new technologies and novel methods are facilitating scientists’ investigation of these unique qualities on multiple and often previously unexplored levels. Why are our brains so big compared to apes, and what does that mean functionally?  Through what mechanisms have our brains been ‘rewired’ to produce novel behaviors and strategies?  What are the key epigenetic differences between apes and humans?  What can disease or neuropathy tell us about the functioning of normal human brains?  How did we transition to an utter dependence on language? Why are our worlds so guided by a moral compass, and how does that compass shift across cultural and ecological circumstances? This symposium will take a multidisciplinary approach to elucidate what makes us human, through research in linguistics, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and comparative genomics.



1-1:10 pm            Welcome – Jessica Lynch Alfaro UCLA, Institute of Society and Genetics
1:10-1:25 pm       Introduction – Dan Fessler – UCLA, Anthropology
1:25-2:05 pm       Genevieve Konopka – “Decoding the molecular evolution of human cognition”
2:05-2:45 pm      Todd Preuss – “Evolutionary Specializations of Human Brain Organization“
2:45-3:10 pm      BREAK
3:10-3:50 pm      Rob Kurzban “Strategic Morality”
3:50-4:30 pm     Carol Padden “Genetics, language, and culture: A comparison of two village sign languages”
4:30-5:00 pm     Panel Discussion and Audience Q & A

this workshop is free and open to the public


Dr. Genevieve KONOPKA completed undergraduate work at M.I.T., her PhD in Neurobiology at Harvard, and post-doctoral training at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Department of Neurology at UCLA. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center where she is the Jon Heighten Scholar in Autism Research. Dr. Konopka is the recipient of an NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award, a NARSAD Young Investigator Award, a March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Scholar Award, and an International Society for Autism Research Young Investigator Award. Research in the Konopka lab focuses on identifying signaling pathways and transcriptional networks important for the evolution of higher cognitive functions in humans, in particular those at risk in cognitive diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.

Robert KURZBAN is currently an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Pennsylvania and occupies the Rasmuson Chair of Economics, University of Alaska Anchorage. He received his PhD at the University of California Santa Barbara at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology in 1998, and received postdoctoral training at Caltech in the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, UCLA Anthropology, and the University of Arizona’s Economic Science Laboratory. Trained as an evolutionary psychologist, he applies the theory of evolution by natural selection to the study of human behavior, especially social behavior. He has published in a wide array of areas, including morality, cooperation, friendship, mate choice,  supernatural beliefs, modularity, self-control, and other topics. In 2008, he won the inaugural Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the flagship journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Evolution and Human Behavior. His most recent book is Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, published by Princeton University Press. You can read his blog at www.epjournal.net/blog/.

Carol PADDEN is Sanford I. Berman Professor of Language and Human Communication and Associate Dean in the Division of Social Sciences at UCSD. She studies emerging sign languages in various parts of the world including in Israel and Turkey. She has written numerous academic and popular articles about sign language grammars. With Tom Humphries, she is the co-author of four books on language and culture of deaf people in the United States. Her work has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health. She has been elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Linguistic Society of America. In 2010, she was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

Todd PREUSS is an Associate Research Professor in the Division of Neuropharmacology and Neurologic Diseases, Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University. He earned his doctorate in biological anthropology from Yale University and completed his postdoctoral training at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Preuss investigates the evolutionary specializations of the human brain; identifying these specializations is critical for understanding how the human brain supports our unique cognitive abilities and why humans are particularly vulnerable to neurodegenerative disease. The Preuss lab addresses questions by comparing human brains to those of chimpanzees — the animals to which humans are most closely related — and to other nonhuman primates. Within this basic comparative framework, the Preuss lab employs multiple investigative methodologies to identify human specializations at multiple levels of organization: genomic and molecular biological techniques to identify evolutionary changes in gene and protein expression, histological techniques to localize expression changes to specify cell types and cell compartments, and neuroimaging techniques to identify evolutionary changes in connectivity and cerebral morphology.

Moderated by: Joe MANSON and Dan FESSLER, (UC Los Angeles)

Workshop Video:
What Makes Us Human [1 of 2] 15 Nov 13 1:07 PM

What Makes Us Human [2 of 2] 15 Nov 13 3:08 PM

Brought to you by the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics.  Co-sponsored by the UCLA Disability Program minor, the UCLA Department of Human Genetics, and the UCLA Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture.



(Friday) 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm(GMT+00:00)


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