Culture, Mind and Brain Program

The Culture, Mind, and Brain Program is hosted by the Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, and brings together McGill Faculty, researchers and students working at the intersection of brain, cognitive and social sciences to explore (i) the interplay of biological, psychological, and social processes in brain function, cognitive development, and mental health, and (ii) the societal and political implications of brain research. In broad terms, the program is concerned with how we have come to understand, speak about ourselves in terms of neural processes and to apply neuroscience in every walk of life including education, law, social policy and health care. At the same time, we consider how the neurosciences can engage the social sciences and humanities to produce new concepts and methodologies that advance our understanding of the brain as situated in social and cultural contexts. This can contribute to novel ecosocial approaches to mental health. 

The CMB program conducts research and training activities that foster collaboration between social scientists and neuroscientists through seminars, focused workshops and international exchange of students and faculty while also supporting interdisciplinary research projects. The program includes researchers engaged in social and cultural neuroscience, computational psychiatry, critical neuroscience, and the philosophy of psychiatry.  The main lines of current work include:

(i) Critical Neuroscience: Interdisciplinary framework used to examine the societal  implications of neuroscience in psychiatry, health and social policy, and everyday life; explores new forms of engagement between neuroscience and the social sciences to experimentally and theoretically approach mental health, subjective experience and cognitive development from an ecosocial perspective. Current projects include the translation of the science of the developing brain in the law, education and mental health; engagements of new parents with epigenetics and neuroscience; the role of adolescent brain science in cannabis-related policy; neuroplasticity and mindfulness programs; integrating youth voice in the science of adolescent development; cities and mental health.

(ii) Cultural Cognitive Science: Investigates the co-construction and co-evolution of cognition, culture, and sociality with a a special focus on health and illness.  This interdisciplinary field of research at the intersection of behavioural, cognitive, and social sciences employs a variety of experimental, ethnographic, and theoretical methods to shed light on invariant psychological mechanisms that give rise to cultural forms of life, and the specific ways in which cultural context shapes human experience.  Current research projects include behavioural studies of the impact of information technologies and the digital niche on human cognition, well-being and embodiment, experimental studies of cultural factors shaping placebo effects and healing, novel forms of distress stemming from changing experiences of gender, and the theoretical study of free-energy and predictive-processing approaches to the evolution of cognition, culture, and psychopathology.  

(iii) Social-Cultural Computational Psychiatry: A novel approach to psychiatric research and practice that combines methods, tools, and techniques from the humanities (e.g., philosophy), the social sciences (e.g., anthropology, sociology), and the neurosciences (e.g., computational modeling, neuroimaging) to produce multilevel mechanistic models of the presentation, etiology, course, and treatment of major psychiatric conditions. The approach weaves together an integrative approach to human existence in terms of meaning and mechanism.

(iv) Contemplative Science: Cultural Cognitive Science Integrating social, cultural, phenomenological and neuroscience methods to study mind-body regulation, altered states of awareness, meditation and other religious or spiritual practices and traditions.

The CMB Program provides a unique training environment that aims to foster analytic and methodological skills to enable students and other trainees to (i) critically analyze emerging cognitive neuroscience literature; (ii) design multidisciplinary studies that integrate the social, cultural, political and neurobiological aspects of cognitive development and mental health; and (iii) assess the potential and limits of brain research to inform health and social policy as well as the use of popular and professional media  to promote critically informed knowledge translation and mobilization. 

The CMB program is supported by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research and the McGill Healthy Brains for Health Lives initiative with strong links to the McGill Institute for Health & Social Policy as well as international collaborations with the Centre for Society and Mental Health, Kings College London, the Centre for Mind, Brain and Culture, Emory University and the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, University College London.

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