Rebecca Saxe

Rebecca Saxe

Associated Research Module: 

Associated Research Thrust: 

Associate Member, McGovern Institute
Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Rebecca is a faculty member in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and a leading expert on human social cognition. She is best known for her discovery of a brain region that is specialized for “theory of mind” tasks that involve understanding the mental states of other people. Although it was known previously that the brains of humans and animals have regions that are specialized for basic functions such as vision and motor control, this was the first example of a brain region specialized for constructing abstract thoughts.

Saxe continues to study this region and its role in social cognition, and she has recently shown that it is involved when we make moral judgments about other people. She is also applying insights from these lab-based studies to examples drawn from the real world; for example, looking at brain activity in people from opposite sides of ethnic conflicts.

The theory-of-mind system is also a promising candidate for understanding the biological basis of autism, a condition in which the ability to understand other people’s beliefs and motivations is often impaired.  Saxe is collaborating with Nancy Kanwisher on a large-scale project to scan autistic and typically developing children in a search for brain differences that could underlie this disease.

Room:  46-4019
Phone:  (617) 324-2885

Current Advisees

Heather L Kosakowski - Graduate Student

Past Advisees

Sean Dae Houlihan - Graduate Student
Dorit Kliemann - Postdoctoral Fellow


CBMM Publications

S. Dae Houlihan, Ong, D., Cusimano, M., and Saxe, R., Reasoning about the antecedents of emotions: Bayesian causal inference over an intuitive theory of mind, Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, vol. 44. Toronto, CA, pp. 854-861, 2022.
A. J. Thomas, Saxe, R., and Spelke, E. S., Infants represent 'like-kin' affiliation , in Budapest Conference on Cognitive Development, Budapest, Hungary, 2020.
R. Saxe, Imaging the infant brain, Japanese Society for Neuroscience, vol. Kobe Japan. 2018.
S. Dae Houlihan and Saxe, R., Modeling emotion attributions as inference in an intuitive theory of mind., Mechanisms Underlying Emotion Regulation and Developmental Psychopathology. University of Wisconsin - Madison, 2017.
R. Saxe and Houlihan, S. Dae, Formalizing emotion concepts within a Bayesian model of theory of mind, Current Option in Psychology, vol. 17, pp. 15-21, 2017.
B. Deen, Kanwisher, N., and Saxe, R., Functional organization of the human superior temporal sulcus, Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM 2015). Honolulu, HI, 2015.