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This Year's Event

The Doppelgänger in Your Head

Featuring Winrich Freiwald, Ph.D.

10:30 AM – 2:00 PM

The Rockefeller University
Caspary Auditorium
1230 York Avenue at East 66th Street
New York, NY 10065


Winrich Freiwald
Winrich Freiwald, Ph.D.

Denise A. and Eugene W. Chinery Professor and Head
Laboratory of Neural Systems
The Rockefeller University

Cognitive neuroscientist Winrich Freiwald wants to understand how the brain interprets visual information to create rich inner representations of the outside world. His groundbreaking research on the ability to recognize faces—which are among the most complex objects people see on a regular basis—has led to a series of discoveries that show how social perception is connected to memory, attention, emotion, and communication.

Dr. Freiwald pioneered a new approach in cognitive neuroscience, which he used to discover the sectors of the brain’s visual system that respond specifically to faces, and to demonstrate that these structures are linked to form a face-processing network. His group has shown that personally familiar faces activate neurons in the brain’s memory centers, discovered neural circuits that mediate emotional responses to facial expressions, and revealed that specific parts of the brain are recruited when social encounters are observed.

Findings by Dr. Freiwald and his colleagues are expected to help advance the understanding of autism spectrum disorder, which is characterized by impaired social skills, and prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces, as well as major depression and other emotional disorders. His studies also have technological implications, as they are uncovering the computational principles the brain uses to generate intelligence.

Dr. Freiwald received a Ph.D. from the University of Tübingen, in Germany. He conducted postdoctoral studies at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, in Frankfurt, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard Medical School. Beginning in 2004, he headed a junior research group at the Centers for Advanced Imaging and Cognitive Sciences, in Bremen. In 2009, he joined Rockefeller as an assistant professor heading the Laboratory of Neural Systems. He was promoted to professor in 2018 and named the Denise A. and Eugene W. Chinery Professor in 2023. He is also a founding co-director of Rockefeller University’s Price Family Center for the Social Brain.

Dr. Freiwald is the recipient of a Perl–UNC Neuroscience Prize from the University of North Carolina, the Golden Brain Award of the Minerva Foundation, the W. Alden Spencer Award from Columbia University, and most recently, a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship. He has also received Pew, Klingenstein, Sinsheimer, and McKnight Scholar Awards and a New York Stem Cell Foundation–Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Award.

The Doppelgänger in Your Head

As social human beings, we usually identify other people by recognizing their faces, and we sense the thoughts and emotions of others by reading facial expressions. Faces are so important that our brains have evolved entire regions that do nothing else but analyze facial information. It is both fascinating and perplexing to consider that, while we cannot look directly at our own faces, our interactions with the faces of others play an integral role in our ability to build inner pictures and personality profiles of ourselves. This lecture will explain current understanding of what the brain’s face-processing machinery actually does, how these parts of the brain work, and what computations they perform. Do they run the same kinds of computer programs that artificial intelligence runs, but on vastly different hardware? We will explore these topics and more as we discuss a special part of your social brain, and how it generates a Doppelgänger of yourself, in fact hundreds of thousands, in your mind.


Jeanne Garbarino Photo
Jeanne Garbarino, Ph.D.

Executive Director
RockEDU Science Outreach
The Rockefeller University


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For its support of this program, Rockefeller University gratefully acknowledges:

The Andreas C. Dracopoulos Family Science and Society Initiative

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Brandon Fleischer
Assistant Director
Outreach Programming and Events
The Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue, Box 164
New York, NY 10065