You are here

Michael Gazzaniga

Professor of Psychology, University of California-Santa Barbara

Michael Gazzaniga, who coined the term “cognitive neuroscience” in the 1980s, is an American psychology professor and researcher who help inaugurate the study of links between the modular brain and its mental and perceptual functions. He has been professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara since 2006, and is director of the Sage Center for the Study of Mind.

His Gifford Lectures were published by HarperCollins in 2011 as Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, making them one of the rare cases in which a modern Gifford achieved popularity in the general-interest book market. His current interest is in the role of neuroscientists testifying in court cases on the reality of “free will,” now a contentious topic in crimes that raise debates about the volition of the perpetrator. In his writings, Gazzaniga has argued that while physiological free will in the individual is an “illusion,” it is nevertheless a real moral and ethical factor in a social context.

Born in 1939, Gazzaniga attended Dartmouth College until 1961 and then completed a doctorate in psychobiology at the California Institute of Technology in 1964, continuing his studies there and at the Institute of Physiology, Pisa, Italy, until 1966. At Cal Tech, Gazzaniga worked with the Nobelist in medicine Roger Sperry, who pioneered studies in the two sides of the brain. He coauthored with Sperry several papers on the interaction between the left and right hemispheres and between brain modules. The research focused on patients who had split-brain surgery, and for whom one side of the brain compensated for losses in the other side.

Gazzaniga began his career teaching psychology at UC Santa Barbara and then in 1969 moved to New York, where he taught at New York University, SUNY, and finally at the Cornell University Medical College from 1977 to 1992. It was at the start of his Cornell work that he helped found the discipline of cognitive neuroscience. He was president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute in 1982. After Cornell, Gazzaniga taught at UC Davis and then served for nearly a decade at Dartmouth College, including as dean of faculty. In 2006 he returned to UC Santa Barbara to direct the Sage Center. Gazzaniga was president of the American Psychological Society in 2005–2006. He continues as president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute and is director of the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project.

In addition to his many elections to scientific societies and invitations to endowed and invited lectures, he is a member of the National Academy of Science, the Institute of Medicine, and was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics in 2002. He has been an advisor to several universities and research society on developing neuroscience departments and research programs. Gazzaniga is also known for his ability to present psychology and neuroscience to general readers in articles and his several books. From 1988 to 2003 he was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience and is editor of the MIT Press’s Monographs in Cognitive Neuroscience.

His books include The Cognitive Neurosciences (2010, 4th ed.), Methods in Mind (2009), The Science of What Makes Us Unique (2008), Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind (2008, 3rd ed.), Psychological Science: Mind, Brain, and Behavior (2008, 3rd ed.), The Ethical Brain (2005), The Cognitive Neurosciences III (2004, 3rd ed.), The Mind’s Past (1998), Fundamentals of Cognitive Neuroscience (1998), Conversations in Cognitive Neuroscience (1996), Nature’s Mind (1992), Mind Matters (1988), Perspectives in Memory Research (1988), The Social Brain (1985), Neuropsychology: Handbook of Behavioral Neurobiology (1979), The Integrated Mind (1978), Handbook of Psychobiology (1975), and The Bisected Brain (1970).