The main BCI research programs, projects and investigators are listed below.



A. How does an intense music training method, such as El Sistema, change the developing human brain?  How does it change the human mind?  Does it have a disctinctive positive effect on social behavior?

B. How does the brain process the emotions induced by music?

C. How does the brain hear music?


Assal Habibi, PhD    

Beatriz Ilari, PhD    

Hanna Damasio, MD    

Antonio Damasio, MD, PhD    

Gil Carvalho, PhD    


Yo-Yo Ma

Daniel Barenboim

Bruce Adolphe

Norman Cook


Los Angeles Philharmonic/YOLA

Thornton School of Music/USC




A. An Investigation of the Cellular Basis of Feelings

B.  Brain Systems Underlying Feeling

C. Imaging the Brainstem Nuclei Relevant for Emotion and Feeling


Antonio Damasio, MD, PhD    

Gil Carvalho, PhD    

Berislav Zlokovic, MD, PhD    

Hanna Damasio, MD    

Jonas Kaplan, PhD    

Le Ma, PhD

Zhen Zhao, PhD

Kassandra Kisler, PhD




A. Narrative Framing and the Violation of Sacred Values

When values that are held sacred are violated, in written or oral narratives, the result can be rejection and anger. The way in which the arguments are framed is likely to play a critical role in the reaction. This study attempts to identify the brain correlates of the emotive reactions caused by those frames that do and do not lead to perceived violations.

B. The Brain’s Processing of Compassion and Admiration Across Cultures

Cultures differ in their norms, ideals and expectations regarding emotions. The BCI’s cross-cultural social emotion project investigates the neurobiological foundations of these cultural differences. We investigate how individuals’ biological predispositions interact with learned cultural norms to shape emotional behavior. We also seek to understand how cultural shaping of behavior may influence individuals’ private experiences of emotion and self through adolescence and adulthood.

C. The Brain’s Virtuous Cycle:  An Investigation of Gratitude and Good Human Conduct

When we are the beneficiaries of good human conduct, we experience a concert of positive emotions ranging from relief to elation.  These emotions can in turn motivate us to expend great sums of energy to reward those near the source of the good conduct, creating, quite literally, a virtuous cycle.  If this cycle has a fuel or catalyst, it goes by the name of gratitude. We approach gratitude using an interdisciplinary method. We use modern brain imaging combined with a powerful resource: testimony from survivors of the Holocaust, housed in the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive. By using this resource, the research is shaping our understanding of gratitude, offering an investigation of the cognitive and physiological routes gratitude can take.  Further, the findings from this study are revealing the connection between gratitude and its powerful health benefits, and we are exploring application of our results to the management of cancer and mental illness. 

D. Religiosity, Culture and Decision-Making

The aim of this project is to understand how religiosity and sacred values interact to influence judgment and decision-making and to incorporate these understandings into formal decision models. The research approach includes psychological experiments and computational text analysis of sacred rhetoric in the domain of political debates.


Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, PhD    

Jonas Kaplan, PhD    

Morteza Dehghani, PhD    

Andrew Gordon, PhD    

Kenji Sagae, PhD    

Sarah Gimbel, PhD    

Antonio Damasio, MD, PhD    

Hanna Damasio, MD    

Glenn Fox    

Xiaofei Yang     



How does the brain make decisions that affect our health, survival, moral behavior and economics?  A team of scholars investigates these questions using state-of-the-art cognitive neuroscience approaches.


Antoine Bechara, MD, PhD    

John Monterosso, PhD    

Giorgio Coricelli, PhD    




Brain Development in Infants

We study the structural, physiological and behavioral changes that support brain maturation in healthy, typically-developing children and in children who have suffered early perinatal risks. The results from these studies help us not only to understand why certain infants face life-long neurodevelopmental disabilities, but also to guide the development and implementation of new therapies to treat brain injury in infants.


Jessica Wisnowski, PhD    

Ashok Panigrahy, PhD    

Hanna Damasio, MD    



A critical focus of this research program is embodied cognition, a designation that refers to how we use our own sensorimotor representations to think and understand not only ourselves but also other people. In brief, we investigate how motor performance and sensory experience are essential contributors to higher cognitive processes. Specifically, the work focuses on understanding shared neural circuits located in brain regions that are active both when one has an experience as well as when one observes another person that is having a similar experience. The shared circuits include those in the mirror neuron system, the pain matrix, and emotion-related brain regions. We explore how activity in such shared neural circuits may underlie higher cognitive processing, such as action and intention understanding, social cognition, empathy, and language processing, in both typically developing individuals and in clinical populations (e.g., individuals with amputations, stroke, dyspraxia, and autism).


Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, PhD    

Mona Sobhani, PhD    

Julie Werner    

Vesna Gamez-Djokic    

Panthea Heydari    

Emily Kilroy




  • From Membrane Excitability to Metazoan Sentience, Mind and Consciousness

What is the cellular basis for sentience, mind and consciousness? Gathering information from the latest developments in the biology of excitable membranes and, especially, the physiology of neurons, we build theoretical models of how the brain is likely to construct the cognitive processes that hallmark the human mind.

  • Sensory Integration and Convergence/Divergence of Brain Signals

One of the remarkable properties of consciousness is that all of our different senses are unified into a single stream of experience. The objects that we see, hear, touch, and so on, are perceived as bound together, even though it is known that separate regions of the brain are specialized for each sensory modality. In our work, we use fMRI brain scanning and decoding algorithms to understand how the different streams of sensory information are merged by the brain. We aim to map this complex neural architecture to better understand perception, the formation of concepts, and the unified character of conscious experience.

  • The Brain Basis for Self

At a given moment, individuals may access information that pertains to their biographies – “the autobiographical self” - as well as information regarding their current body states – “the core self”. Our long-term goal is to understand the neural basis for the access to these two kinds of self-related information, using advanced methods of neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG).

  • The Brain Basis for Biographical Recall

Using electrocorticography(ECoG) we are investigating the human brain network and activity dynamics engaged during spontaneous recall of autobiographic memory in naturalistic settings.  Specifically, we ask if the human Posteromedial Cortex (PMC) shows significant high frequency broadband activity during real life settings as during controlled experimental conditions of autobiographical recall; and if the utterance of filler vocalizations (such as ‘uh”) corresponds in a time-locked manner to activity in the PMC and to recall.


Helder F. Araujo    

Kingson Man    


Kaspar Meyer, MD    

Jonas Kaplan, PhD         

Antonio Damasio, MD, PhD    

Hanna Damasio, MD    



Hanna Damasio, MD    

Richard Leahy, PhD    

Anand Joshi, PhD    

David Shattuck, MD    







  • Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI)
  • 3620A McClintock Avenue
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-2921
  • Fax: (213) 821-3099