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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2006

Turhan Canli, Stony Brook University, New York, USA

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Turhan Canli

Biography

Dr. Canli is of German-Turkish descent and grew up in Germany. After the Abitur, he continued his education at Tufts University in the United States, where he graduated with a degree in Psychology in 1988 (B.A., summa cum laude, summo cum honore in thesi, Psychology). He continued graduate studies at Yale University, where he focused on the neural basis of associative learning in animals, earning a Ph.D. in 1993. After two postdoctoral years at Yale studying the neural basis of emotional learning and memory in animals, he switched to the human brain and moved to Stanford University as a postdoctoral research fellow in 1995. At Stanford, he learned how to conduct functional magnetic resonance imaging studies in the laboratory of Professor John Gabrieli, where Dr. Canli was one of the first researchers to use a cognitive neuroscience approach to the study of extraversion and neuroticism, two fundamental human personality traits.

In 2001, he joined the Psychology faculty of Stony Brook University. He is also a member of the Stony Brook Graduate program in Genetics, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Würzburg, Germany. His current research is concerned with the biology of emotion, personality, and individual differences. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, magnetic brain stimulation, and molecular genetic techniques, Dr. Canli investigates how and why we differ from each other in our responses to emotional experiences. He recently edited a book on the "Biology of Personality".

Dr. Canli is also a co-founding member and executive board member of the Neuroethics Society, which is concerned with ethical applications of Neuroscience in the real world, including forensic psychology, neuromarketing, behavior prediction, and the war on terror.

Abstract

Genomic Psychology – An outlook for the next 100 years

Neuroscience has immensely enriched Psychology in the past century. Whereas early Psychology could describe and predict behavior without reference to biology, contemporary Psychology uses much of the currency of Neuroscience to explain the underlying mechanisms of many mental functions. The development of non-invasive tools to study the living human brain has expanded our inquiry beyond animals and brain-damaged human patients to include healthy volunteers. Functional neuroimaging studies of such individuals have produced breathtaking advances in our understanding of the neural basis of human cognitions, emotions, personality traits, and even complex social behaviors over the past two decades.

We are now on the threshold of another major advancement, this time thanks to molecular biology, which has begun to identify individual variations within specific genes that regulate neural transmission and other brain-related processes. Investigators in molecular biology have also begun to associate genomic variation with individual differences in cognitive processes and personality traits. Current work focuses on the mechanisms by which environmental variables and life experience modify the genome, thereby developing a molecular account of specific gene-by-environment interactions in the brain.

What are the implications for psychology for the next 100 years? I see three major consequences. The first consequence will be a deeper understanding of the roots of behavior. We will have a better understanding why people do what they do, because we will understand the interactions between genetic and environmental factors, and their impact on brain circuits that generate behavior. The second consequence will be a vastly improved (but by no means perfect) ability to predict behavior, compared to current methods. The ability to predict behavior will have considerable consequences in many "real world" applications, such as in the judicial system, in applicant screening, and in marketing. The third consequence will be behavior modification or mental enhancement, such as the removal of unwanted (e.g., criminal) behaviors or the enhancement of desired abilities (e.g., better memory). Psychology will play a major role in each of these three domains, but will also have to play a prominent role, along with Neuroethics, in advocating the responsible and ethical use of these applications in society.