Michael Spezio

Associate Professor of Psychology
Academic and Major Adviser in Environmental Analysis Non-Science Tracks, Thesis Reader

Department: Psychology
Office Address: Steele 118
Office Phone: (909) 607-0914
Michael Spezio

Academic History

  • B.S., Biochemistry, Case Western Reserve University
  • M.Div., Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
  • Ph.D., Biochemistry, Cornell University
  • Ph.D., Cognitive & Systems Neuroscience, University of Oregon

Areas of Expertise

Social neuroscience, affective neuroscience, applied cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience of autism, virtue science, and religion & science.

Personal Interests

  • Social neuroscience, which seeks to understand how the brain contributes to understanding other people. Social neuroscientific investigation of empathy, political decision-making, moral action, compassion, and contemplative practice. Understanding autism. Applications of eyetracking, fMRI and dEEG to understand the link between mental and neural processes.
  • Transdisciplinary approaches to complex problems such as human moral action, human freedom, and religious experience.

Selected Research and Publications

  • Gazzola, Valeria*, Michael L. Spezio*, Joset A. Etzel, Fulvia Castelli, Ralph Adolphs, & Christian Keysers, "Primary Somatosensory Cortex Discriminates Emotional Significance in Social Touch," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(2012)E1657–E1666. (* = shared first authorship)
  • Spezio, Michael L., Laura Loesch, Frederic Gosselin, Kyle Mattes, & R. Michael Alvarez, "Thin-Slice Decisions Do Not Need Faces to be Predictive of Election Outcomes," Political Psychology 33(2012)331-341.
  • Reimer, Kevin S., Christina Young, Brandon Birath, Michael L. Spezio, Gregory Peterson, James Van Slyke, and Warren S. Brown, "Maturity is Explicit: Self-Importance of Traits in Humanitarian Moral Identity," Journal of Positive Psychology 7(2012)36-44.
  • Reimer, Kevin S., Michael L. Spezio, Warren S. Brown, James van Slyke, Gregory R. Peterson, Kristen R. Monroe, "Virtuous Courage: New Methods for the Interdisciplinary Study of Virtue," in Science, Ethics, and Politics: Conversations and Investigations, Kristen R. Monroe, Ed., Paradigm Press, 70-85.
  • Joseph Tao-yi Wang, Michael L. Spezio, & Colin Camerer, "Pinocchio's Pupil: Using Eyetracking and Pupil Dilation To Understand Truth-telling and Deception in Sender-Receiver Games," American Economic Review 100(2010)984-1007.
  • Mattes, Kyle, Michael Spezio, Hackjin Kim, Alexander Todorov, Ralph Adolphs, & R. Michael Alvarez, "Predicting election outcomes from positive and negative trait assessments of candidate images," Political Psychology 31(2010)41-58.
  • Adolphs, Ralph & Michael Spezio, "Social Cognition," in The Handbook of Neuroscience for the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 2, G. G. Bernston & J. T. Cacioppo, Eds. (New York: Wiley and Sons, 2009), p. 923-939.
  • Spezio, M. L. & Ralph Adolphs, "Emotion, Cognition, & Belief: Findings from Cognitive Neuroscience," in Delusion and Self-Deception: Affective and Motivational Influences on Belief Formation, T. Bayne & J. Fernandez, Eds. (New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2009)87-105.
  • Spezio, M. L.*, A. Rangel*, R. M. Alvarez, J. P. O'Doherty, K. Mattes, A. Todorov, H. Kim, & R. Adolphs, "A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes," Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 3(2008)344-352. (* = shared first authorship)
  • Adolphs, R., M. L. Spezio, M. Parlier, & J. Piven, "Distinct Face-Processing Strategies in Parents of Autistic Children," Current Biology 18(2008)1090-1093.
  • Spezio, M. L., P.-Y. Huang, F. Castelli, & R. Adolphs, "Amygdala Damage Impairs Eye Contact During Conversations with Real People," J Neurosci 27(2007)3994-3997.
  • Spezio, M. L., R. E. Hurley, J. Piven, & R. Adolphs, "Abnormal Use of Facial Information in High Functioning Autism," J Autism and Developmental Disorders 37(2007)929-939.
  • Spezio, Michael L. and Ralph Adolphs, "Politics and the Evolving Neuroscience Literature," in The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior, W. Russell Neuman, George E. Marcus, Ann Crigler, and Michael MacKuen, Eds. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2007)71-95.
  • Spezio, Michael L., Ralph Adolphs, Robert S. E. Hurley, and Joseph Piven, "Analysis of Face Gaze in Autism Using 'Bubbles', Neuropsychologia, 45(2007)144-151.
  • Spezio, Michael L. and Ralph Adolphs, "The Neural Basis of Affective and Social Behavior," in The Handbook of Psychophysiology (3rd Edition), John Cacioppo, Ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2007), 540-554.
  • Neumann, Dirk, Michael L. Spezio, Joseph Piven, & Ralph Adolphs, "Looking You In the Mouth: Abnormal Gaze in Autism Resulting from Impaired Top-Down Modulation of Visual Attention," Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 1(2006)194-202.
  • Adolphs, R. & M. L. Spezio, "Role of the Amygdala in Processing Visual Social Stimuli," Progress in Brain Research 156(2006)363-378. (* denotes shared first authorship)
  • Spezio, Michael L., "Relating Political Theory and Virtue Science: A Reflection on Human Dignity, Empathy, and the Capabilities Approach," in Theology and the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience, Routledge, 2012.
  • Van Slyke, James A., Gregory R. Peterson, Warren S. Brown, Michael L. Spezio, & Kevin S. Reimer, Theology and the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience, Routledge, 2012.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "The Cognitive Sciences: A Brief Introduction for Science & Religion," in J. Haag, G. Peterson, & M. L. Spezio, Eds., The Routledge Companion to Science and Religion, Routledge, 2012.
  • Haag, James, Michael L. Spezio, and Gregory R. Peterson, Co-Editors, The Routledge Companion to Science and Religion, Routledge, 2012.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "Human or Vulcan?: Theological Consideration of Emotional Control Enhancement," in Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in and Age of Technological Enhancement, Ron Cole-Turner, Ed., Georgetown University Press, 2011, pp. 146-162.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "The Neuroscience of Emotion & Reasoning in Social Contexts: Implications for Moral Theology," Modern Theology 27(2011)339-356.
  • Peterson, Gregory R., James van Slyke, Michael L. Spezio, Kevin Reimer, Warren Brown, "The Rationality of Ultimate Concern: Moral Exemplars, Theological Ethics, and the Science of Moral Cognition," Theology & Science 8(2010)139-161.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "Interiority and Purpose: Emerging Points of Contact for Theology and the Neurosciences," invited Editorial, Theology & Science 7(2009)119-121.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "Rationality and Interpreted Experience: The Efficacy of Phenomenal Consciousness," in The Evolution of Rationality: A Festschrift in Honor of J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Eerdmans, 2006.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "Narrative in Holistic Healing: Empathy, Sympathy, & Simulation Theory," in Spiritual Transformation and Healing, Joan D. Koss and Philip Hefner, Eds., Altamira Press, 2006, pp. 206-222.
  • Spezio, Michael L. "Brain and Machine: Minding the Transhuman Future," Dialog 44(2005)375.
  • Spezio, Michael L., "Freedom in the Body: the Physical, the Causal and the Possibility of Choice," Zygon 39(2004)577-590.

Awards and Honors

Love, Compassion, and Care: Virtue Science and Exemplarity in Real Life and in the Laboratory 5/13 — 4/15
($1.27 million)
Role: Co-Principal Investigator
Institution: The John Templeton Foundation

Compassion and Christian Contemplative Practice: 1/11 — 12/12
Toward Interdisciplinary Research Involving Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience ($50,000)
Role: Co-Principal Investigator
Institution: The Fetzer Institute

NSF1039791 10/10 — 9/13
Project Title: Major Research Instrumentation Grant: Acquisition of a High-Density Electrophysiology Laboratory for Intercollegiate Research and Training in Cognitive Neuroscience ($420,000)
Role: Co-Principal Investigator
Institution: The National Science Foundation (NSF)

Tools for Recognizing Useful Signals of Trustworthiness (TRUST) ($839,000) 8/11 — 7/12
Project Title: Protocols for the Analysis of Interpersonal Trust
Role: Director of the Dyadic Interactional Electroencephalography Component
Institution: Air Force Research Laboratories, Dayton, OH

R01 MH080721-01A1 7/07 — 6/12
(P.I.: Ralph Adolphs)
Project Title: Towards an endophenotype for amygdala dysfunction
Role: Co-Investigator
Institution: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH/NIMH)

R01 MH077843-01A1 7/07 – 6/12
(P.I.: Joseph Piven)
Project Title: Neural circuitry of social cognition in the broad autism phenotype
Role: Co-Investigator
Institution: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH/NIMH)

Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series Award (Renewal Grant, $200,000) 1/09 — 8/11
Project Title: The Rationality of Ultimate Value: Philosophical and Neuroscientific Investigations Toward a Science of Virtue
Role: Co-Investigator
Institution: Center for Theology & the Natural Sciences

  • 2010-2013. National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant for dense array EEG. Co-Principal Investigator. (with Alan Hartley, David Moore, Cathy Reed, and Stacey Wood)
  • 2010-2011. Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Science of Christian Contemplative Practice, Fetzer Institute. Co-Principal Investigator. (with Andrew Dreitcer and Frank Rogers)
  • 2009-2011. Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series Grant, Center for Theology & the Natural Sciences. Co-Investigator. (with Warren Brown, Greg Peterson, Kevin S. Reimer, and James Van Slyke)
  • 2007-2008 Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series Grant, The Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (with Warren Brown, Gregory Peterson, Kevin Reimer, and James van Slyke)
  • 2007-2008 BLAIS Fund Award, Claremont Graduate University (with Paul J. Zak)
  • 2005-2006 Varela Award, Mind and Life Institute
  • 04/03-04/04 National Research Service Award, National Institute of Mental Health
  • 07/98-11/01 National Institutes of Health Training Grant in Systems Neuroscience
  • 2000 Center for Theology and the National Sciences Science & Religion Course Prize
  • 1990 Graduate Teaching Fellow Award, Cornell University


Prof. Spezio is a social neuroscientist whose research focuses on emotion, empathy, moral action, contemplative practice, and the development of mindfulness and virtue. In addition to experimental work, his interdisciplinary research includes philosophy of mind, moral philosophy and ethics, religious studies, and theology. He has been on the Scripps College faculty since 2007 and is currently visiting faculty at Caltech in affective and social neuroscience. He is co-editor of the 2011 Routledge Companion to Religion and Science and of the 2012 Theology and the Science of Moral Action, also from Routledge.

Courses Taught

  • Research Methods & Design (Psyc104/104L)
  • Cognitive Psychology + Lab (Psyc120/120L)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience + Lab (Psyc123/123L)
  • Social Neuroscience (Psyc129)
  • Emotion (Psyc130)

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