Daniel Casasanto is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Psychology at Cornell University and director of the Experience and Cognition Laboratory. He studies how the diversity of human experience is reflected in our brains and minds: how people with different physical and social experiences come to think, feel, and act differently, in fundamental ways. To study cognitive diversity across cultures, his lab conducts research on five continents, using methods that range from watching children at play to brain imaging and neuro-stimulation.
A former opera singer, Casasanto received a graduate diploma in Voice from the Peabody Conservatory before earning a doctorate from the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 2005. Casasanto’s honors include a National Research Service Award, the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s Scholar Award, the Association for Psychological Science’s Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions, the American Psychological Association’s Fantz Memorial Award for Young Psychologists, and the Psychonomic Society’s Early Career Award for Exceptional Research Contributions to Scientific Psychology.
Casasanto has authored over 100 scientific publications, which are featured routinely in the national and international media. These include over 60 papers and chapters on metaphor in language, mind, and brain. He serves on the editorial board of seven journals and was a founding editor of Cambridge University Press’s interdisciplinary journal Language and Cognition.
Research in the Experience and Cognition lab explores the mind in context: how linguistic, cultural, and bodily experiences influence the ways people think, feel, learn, and make decisions, on multiple timescales. By studying how people with different experiences come to think differently, we can better understand the processes by which interactions with the physical and social world enable people to realize and exceed their innate cognitive endowments.
We use a variety of methods: from analyses of spontaneous gesture to Virtual Reality, multimodal psychophysics, neuroimaging (fMRI, EEG), studies in brain injury patients, and neurostimulation (TMS, tDCS). To track effects of experience over time, we have studied infants and children as well as adults. To test cognitive diversity across languages and cultures, my collaborators and I have conducted fieldwork on 5 continents.
To identify experiential factors that shape our minds, one strategy we use is to test for systematic differences in brain or behavior caused by separable streams of physical and social experience: that is, to test for linguistic relativity, cultural relativity, and what I call by analogy bodily relativity.
I have developed new experimental methods and theoretical frameworks for investigating how experience shapes our brains and minds. These include a psychophysical paradigm for testing linguistic relativity without using words, a new theory of how culture shapes our conceptions of time, and a proposal about relationships between body and mind, the body-specificity hypothesis, which has now been validated by more than 60 published studies on the neural and cognitive bases of language, memory, mental imagery, object representation, and emotion.
This research demonstrates the diversity of the human cognitive repertoire. At the same time, it suggests a reconciliation between “universalist” and “relativist” views. Experience shapes our brains and minds through processes of learning and inference that may be universal. Cognitive diversity arises when these processes operate in distinctive physical and social contexts.
Beyond revealing the processes by which brains and minds develop and change, explorations of cognitive diversity can lead to a more flexible and inclusive understanding of human nature – an understanding that will emerge from studying a broader spectrum of humans than has been represented by the canon of cognitive science.
Casasanto, D. & de Bruin, A. (2019). Metaphors we learn by: Directed motor action improves word learning. Cognition. 182, 177-183.
Brookshire, G. & Casasanto, D. (2018). Approach motivation in human cerebral cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017-0141
Casasanto, D. (2017). Sleight of Hand. Science. 357, 1246.
Brookshire, G., Lu, J., Nusbaum, H.C., Goldin-Meadow, S., & Casasanto, D. (2017). Visual cortex entrains to sign language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114(24), 6352-6357.
Casasanto, D. (2017). Relationships between language and cognition. In B. Dancygier (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics (pp. 19-37). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Casasanto, D. (2016). Linguistic relativity. In N. Riemer (Ed.), Routledge handbook of semantics (pp. 158-174). New York: Routledge.
Casasanto, D., & Lupyan, G. (2015). All concepts are ad hoc concepts. In E. Margolis & S. Laurence (Eds.), The conceptual mind: New directions in the study of concepts (pp. 543-566). Cambridge: MIT Press.
Casasanto, D., & Bottini, R. (2014). Mirror-reading can reverse the flow of time. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(2), 473-9.
de la Fuente, J., Santiago, J., Román, A., Dumitrache, C., & Casasanto, D. (2014). When you think about it, the past is in front of you: How culture shapes spatial conceptions of time. Psychological Science, 25(9), 1682-1690.
Casasanto, D. (2014). Bodily relativity. In L. Shapiro (Ed.), Routledge handbook of embodied cognition (pp. 108-117). New York: Routledge.
Dolscheid, S., Hunnius, S., Casasanto, D., & Majid, A. (2014). Prelinguistic infants are sensitive to space-pitch associations found across cultures. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1256-1261.
Dolscheid, S., Shayan, S., Majid, A., & Casasanto, D. (2013). The thickness of musical pitch: Psychophysical evidence for linguistic relativity. Psychological Science, 24(5), 613–621.
Brookshire, G., & Casasanto, D. (2012). Motivation and motor control: Hemispheric specialization for approach motivation reverses with handedness. PLoS ONE, 7(4): e36036. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036036
Jasmin, K., & Casasanto, D. (2012). The QWERTY effect: How typing shapes the meanings of words. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 19(3), 499-504.
Casasanto, D., & Henetz, T. (2012). Handedness shapes children's abstract concepts. Cognitive Science, 36, 359–372.
Casasanto, D. (2011). Different bodies, different minds: The body-specificity of language and thought. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(6), 378–383.
Casasanto, D., & Chrysikou, E.G. (2011). When left is "right": Motor fluency shapes abstract concepts. Psychological Science, 22(4), 419-422.
Willems, R.M., Labruna, L., D’Esposito, M., Ivry, R., & Casasanto, D. (2011). A functional role for the motor system in language understanding: Evidence from theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation. Psychological Science, 22(7), 849–854.
Willems, R. M., Hagoort, P., & Casasanto, D. (2010). Body-specific representations of action verbs: Neural evidence from right- and left-handers. Psychological Science, 21(1), 67-74.
Casasanto, D., Fotakopoulou, O., & Boroditsky, L. (2010). Space and time in the child's mind: Evidence for a cross-dimensional asymmetry. Cognitive Science, 34, 387-405.
Casasanto, D., & Dijkstra, K. (2010). Motor action and emotional memory. Cognition, 115(1), 179-185.
Casasanto, D., & Jasmin, K. (2010). Good and bad in the hands of politicians: Spontaneous gestures during positive and negative speech. PLoS ONE, 5(7): e11805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011805
Casasanto, D. (2009). Embodiment of abstract concepts: Good and bad in right- and left-handers. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 138(3), 351-367.
Casasanto, D., & Boroditsky, L. (2008). Time in the mind: Using space to think about time. Cognition, 106, 579-593.
Casasanto, D. (2008). Who's afraid of the Big Bad Whorf? Cross-linguistic differences in temporal language and thought. Language Learning, 58(1), 63-79.
Casasanto, D. (2005). Crying "Whorf". Science, 307, 1721-1722.
Casasanto is the Scientific Director and Co-Founder of THE THINK TANK, a mobile neuroscience lab driven to accelerate diverse participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
TEDx Talk, The myth of the universal mind
Casasanto received his Ph.D. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT in 2005.