Christine E. Looser

Post-Doctoral Fellow of Business Administration


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Christine Looser is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Computer Laboratory for Experimental Research at Harvard Business School. She uses experimental psychology to better understand how small cognitive biases can create large downstream consequences for interpersonal understanding and public policy. Her current work looks at systematic ways in which people mispredict what others value. She has a BA in philosophy and psychology from the College of the Holy Cross and holds a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from Dartmouth College where she studied social neuroscience, visual processing, and mind perception.

In the fall of 2015 she will join the Harvard Psychology Department as a College Fellow and teach undergraduate courses in mind perception and decision-making.



  1. Group Membership Alters the Threshold for Mind Perception: The Role of Social Identity, Collective Identification, and Intergroup Threat

    Leor M. Hackel, Christine E. Looser and Jay J. Van Bavel

    Human faces are used as cues to the presence of social agents, and the ability to detect minds and mental states in others occupies a central role in social interaction. In the current research, we present evidence that the human propensity for mind perception is bound by social group membership. Specifically, we show how identification with different social groups influences the threshold for mind perception. In three experiments, participants assessed a continuum of face morphs that ranged from human to doll faces. These faces were described as in-group or out-group members. Participants had higher (i.e., more stringent) thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces, both in minimal (Experiment 1) and real-world groups (Experiment 2). In other words, out-group members required more humanness than in-group members to be perceived as having minds. This intergroup bias in mind perception was moderated by collective identification, such that highly identified group members had the highest threshold for perceiving minds behind out-group relative to in-group faces. In contrast, Democrats and Republicans who perceived the other party as threatening had lower thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces (Experiment 3). These experiments suggest that mind perception is a dynamic process in which relevant contextual information such as social identity and out-group threat change the interpretation of physical features that signal the presence of another mind. Implications for mind perception, dehumanization, and intergroup relations are discussed.

    Keywords: Groups and Teams; Identity; Personal Characteristics; Cognition and Thinking;


    Hackel, Leor M., Christine E. Looser, and Jay J. Van Bavel. "Group Membership Alters the Threshold for Mind Perception: The Role of Social Identity, Collective Identification, and Intergroup Threat."Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 52 (May 2014): 15–23. View Details
  2. Multivoxel Patterns in Face-sensitive Temporal Regions Reveal an Encoding Schema Based on Detecting Life in a Face

    Christine E. Looser, J. Swaroop Guntupalli and Thalia Wheatley

    More than a decade of research has demonstrated that faces evoke prioritized processing in a 'core face network' of three brain regions. However, whether these regions prioritize the detection of global facial form (shared by humans and mannequins) or the detection of life in a face has remained unclear. Here, we dissociate form-based and animacy-based encoding of faces by using animate and inanimate faces with human form (humans, mannequins) and dog form (real dogs, toy dogs). We used multivariate pattern analysis of BOLD responses to uncover the representational similarity space for each area in the core face network. Here, we show that only responses in the inferior occipital gyrus are organized by global facial form alone (human vs. dog) while animacy becomes an additional organizational priority in later face-processing regions: the lateral fusiform gyri (latFG) and right superior temporal sulcus. Additionally, patterns evoked by human faces were maximally distinct from all other face categories in the latFG and parts of the extended face perception system. These results suggest that once a face configuration is perceived, faces are further scrutinized for whether the face is alive and worthy of social cognitive resources.

    Keywords: brain imaging; social psychology; mind perception; Identity; Science; Cognition and Thinking;


    Looser, Christine E., J. Swaroop Guntupalli, and Thalia Wheatley. "Multivoxel Patterns in Face-sensitive Temporal Regions Reveal an Encoding Schema Based on Detecting Life in a Face."Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 8, no. 7 (October 2013): 799–805. View Details
  3. From Mind Perception to Mental Connection: Synchrony as a Mechanism for Social Understanding

    Thalia Wheatley, Olivia Kang, Carolyn Parkinson and Christine E. Looser

    Connecting deeply with another mind is as enigmatic as it is fulfilling. Why people ‘‘click’’ with some people but not others is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science. However, researchers from psychology and neuroscience are converging on a likely physiological basis for connection—neural synchrony (entrainment). Here, we review research on the necessary precursors for interpersonal synchrony: the ability to detect a mind and resonate with its outputs. Further, we describe potential mechanisms for the development of synchrony between two minds. We then consider recent neuroimaging and behavioral evidence for the adaptive benefits of synchrony, including neural efficiency and the release of a reward signal that promotes future social interaction. In nature, neural synchrony yields behavioral synchrony. Humans use behavioral synchrony to promote neural synchrony, and thus, social bonding. This reverse-engineering of social connection is an important innovation likely underlying this distinctively human capacity to create large-scale social coordination and cohesion.

    Keywords: social psychology; interpersonal communication; neuroscience; Social Psychology; Interpersonal Communication; Relationships;


    Wheatley, Thalia, Olivia Kang, Carolyn Parkinson, and Christine E. Looser. "From Mind Perception to Mental Connection: Synchrony as a Mechanism for Social Understanding." Social and Personality Psychology Compass 6, no. 8 (August 2012): 589–606. View Details
  4. Mind Perception: Real but Not Artificial Faces Sustain Neural Activity beyond the N170/VPP

    Thalia Wheatley, Anna Weinberg, Christine E. Looser, Tim Moran and Greg Hajcak

    Faces are visual objects that hold special significance as the icons of other minds. Previous researchers using event-related potentials (ERPs) have found that faces are uniquely associated with an increased N170/vertex positive potential (VPP) and a more sustained frontal positivity. Here, we examined the processing of faces as objects vs. faces as cues to minds by contrasting images of faces possessing minds (human faces), faces lacking minds (doll faces), and non-face objects (i.e., clocks). Although both doll and human faces were associated with an increased N170/VPP from 175–200 ms following stimulus onset, only human faces were associated with a sustained positivity beyond 400 ms. Our data suggest that the N170/VPP reflects the object-based processing of faces, whether of dolls or humans; on the other hand, the later positivity appears to uniquely index the processing of human faces—which are more salient and convey information about identity and the presence of other minds.

    Keywords: neuroscience; mind perception; social psychology; face perception; Personal Characteristics; Science; Cognition and Thinking;


    Wheatley, Thalia, Anna Weinberg, Christine E. Looser, Tim Moran, and Greg Hajcak. "Mind Perception: Real but Not Artificial Faces Sustain Neural Activity beyond the N170/VPP." PLoS ONE 6, no. 2 (February 2011). View Details
  5. The Tipping Point of Animacy: How, When, and Where We Perceive Life in a Face

    Christine E. Looser and Thalia Wheatley

    Faces capture humans' attention; yet, beyond aesthetic appreciation, it is presumably not the face itself that interests people but the mind behind it. Minds think, feel, and act in ways that have direct consequences for well-being, but despite their importance, how minds are perceived in faces is not well understood. We investigated this mechanism by presenting participants with morphed images created from animate (human) and inanimate (mannequin) faces. Life and mind were perceived to "appear" at a consistent location on the morph continuum, close to the human endpoint. This location constituted a categorical boundary, as evidenced by increased sensitivity to differences in image pairs that straddled this tipping point. Additionally, the impression of life was gleaned from the eyes more than from other facial features. These results suggest that human beings are highly attuned to specific facial cues, carried largely in the eyes, that gate the categorical perception of life.

    Keywords: social psychology; mind perception; face perception; Identity; Cognition and Thinking;


    Looser, Christine E., and Thalia Wheatley. "The Tipping Point of Animacy: How, When, and Where We Perceive Life in a Face."Psychological Science 21, no. 12 (December 2010). View Details

Book Chapters

  1. Prospective Codes Fufilled: A Potential Neural Mechanism of Will

    Thalia Wheatley and Christine E. Looser

    One of my few shortcomings is that I can’t predict the future. Lars Ulrich, Metallica. Lars Ulrich was right and wrong. He was right in the way we most often think about the future—as a long stretch of time during which multiply determined events occur. If we could predict this kind of future we would play the lottery every day and avoid embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions. This is clearly not the case. However, converging evidence from neuroscience reveals that our brains do predict the future and do so well, albeit on a much shorter time scale. Bayesian anticipation of likely events appears to be a general principle of brain function. That is, we use information about the probability of past events to predict future events, allowing for a more efficient use of neural resources. While research has begun to show that many systems in the brain code Bayesian predictions, very little work has examined the experiential consequences of this coding. Here we propose that prospective neural facilitation may be fundamental to the phenomenological experience of will.

    Keywords: free will; neuroscience; responsibility; prospection; Forecasting and Prediction; Science; Cognition and Thinking;


    Wheatley, Thalia, and Christine E. Looser. "Prospective Codes Fufilled: A Potential Neural Mechanism of Will." Chap. 13 in Conscious Will and Responsibility, edited by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Lynn Nadel, 146–158. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. View Details

    Research Summary

      17 Jun 2013
      You're the Expert
      11 Feb 2013
      HBS Working Knowledge