Michael Spezio

Associate Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, Data Science
Chair, Department of Psychology

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

Director, The Laboratory for Inquiry into Valuation and Emotion (The LIVE Lab).

Areas of Expertise. Decision science, cognitive science, computational cognitive neuroscience, multiagent interactive modeling, valuation, emotion, theory of mind, belief modeling, trust, applications of machine learning, applications of natural language processing, applications of Bayesian models and model comparison, EEG, fMRI, social neuroscience, autism spectrum, political psychology, mindfulness, virtue science, moral action, neuroethics, data science ethics and justice (DSEJ), religion & science.

Personal Interests

How do we formally model the values and emotions that form who we are and how we choose to live? How can formal computational models coming out of operations research and artificial intelligence help us better understand the dynamics and structures of personal and moral values, and how institutions, organizations, and groups shape those values? How do these dynamics and structures affect choices and decisions when people actually interact with one another? How do we scientifically address the individuality and social connection of each person and recognize the potential of neurodiversity? How do valuation and emotion allow exemplary groups to overcome seemingly insurmountable differences between people? In the LIVE Lab we study these questions by combining interviews, natural language processing, cognitive computational modeling, and computational models of the brain (EEG and fMRI), along with more typical self-report questionnaires.

Selected Research and Publications

  • Rusch, Tessa, Saurabh Steixner-Kumar, Prashant Doshi, Michael Spezio*, Jan Gläscher*. “Theory of Mind and Decision Science: Towards a Typology of Tasks and Computational Models,” Neuropsychologia, in press. (* = shared senior authorship)
  • Spezio, Michael. “Knotty Problems and Naughty Hands: Learning and Mislearning from Neuroscience,” Religion, Brain, and Behavior, in press. (Note: this is an invited paper that presents a critique of Iain McGilchrist’s divided brain theory underlying his analysis of human history in The Master and His Emissary. The critique is supported using meta-analyses of human neuroimaging data and computational linguistic analyses of McGilchrist’s 2009 book).
  • Dalrymple, Kirsten, Michael Spezio, Heather C. Hazlett, Joseph Piven, & Jed T. Elison, “Rapid face orienting in infants and school-age children with and without autism: Exploring measurement invariance in eye-tracking,” PLoSOne 13(2018):e0202875;
  • Spezio, Michael, Gregory Peterson, & Robert C. Roberts, “Humility as Openness to Others: Interactive Humility in the Context of l’Arche,” Journal of Moral Education (2018), DOI: 10.1080/03057240.2018.1444982.
  • Chien, Sam, Antonius Wiehler, Michael Spezio, & Jan Gläscher, “Congruence of Inherent and Acquired Values Facilitates Reward-Based Decision-Making,” Journal of Neuroscience 36(2016)5003-5012.
  • Bridgman, Matthew W., Warren S. Brown, Michael L. Spezio, Matthew K. Leonard, Ralph Adolphs, Lynn K. Paul, “Facial emotion recognition in agenesis of the corpus callosum,” Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders 6(2014)32.
  • 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. (§ = Scripps College student/alumna author)
  • 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,” Politicial 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.
    Psychology & Neuroscience (con’t.)
  • 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.
  • Paul, Lynn K., Aaron Lautzenhiser, Warren S. Brown, Arch Hart, Dirk Neumann, Michael Spezio, & Ralph Adolphs, “Emotional Arousal in Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum,” International Journal of Psychophysiology, 61(2006)47-56.

Awards and Honors

  • Mindful Moral Identity and Public Virtue (MMIPV) among Humanitarian and Democratizing Justice Exemplars in the Context of Turkey ($190,000). 8/19 – 5/21
    Role: Principal Investigator
    Institution: The Self, Virtue, and Public Life Project, University of Oklahoma,
    funded by the Templeton Religion Trust
  • Computational Modeling of Cooperative Success using Neural Signals and Networks ($697,156) 2/17 – 1/21
    Role: Principal Investigator
    Institution: The US National Science Foundation & the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The grant is part of the NSF’s program in Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience (CRCNS; Dr. Kenneth Whang, Director) and is funded through the Cognitive Neuroscience and Decision Science areas.
  • Humility in Loving Encounter: Ontological and Cognitive-Motivational Models of the Moral Self in Stable Communities of Care, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation ($190,000) 9/15 – 4/18
    Role: Principal Investigator, with Co-Principal Investigatory Robert C. Roberts
    Institution: The Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project, University of Oklahoma, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust
  • Love, Compassion, and Care: Virtue Science and Exemplarity in Real Life and in the Laboratory ($1.27 million) 5/13 – 10/15
    Role: Co-Investigator (wrote the grant application)
    Institution: The John Templeton Foundation
  • NSF1039791 ($420,000) 10/10 – 12/13
    Project Title: Major Research Instrumentation Grant: Acquisition of a High-Density Electrophysiology Laboratory for Intercollegiate Research and Training in Cognitive Neuroscience
    Role: Co-Principal Investigator
    Institution: The US National Science Foundation
  • Compassion and Christian Contemplative Practice: Toward Interdisciplinary Research Involving Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience ($50,000) 1/11 – 12/12
    Role: Co-Principal Investigator
    Institution: The Fetzer Institute
  • 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 1/09 – 8/11
    (Renewal Grant, $200,000)
    Project Title: The Rationality of Ultimate Value: Philosophical and Neuroscientific Investigations Toward a Science of Virtue
    Role: Co-Investigator
    Institution: The Center for Theology & the Natural Sciences, Berkeley, CA
  • Scripps College Research Award ($7,950) 7/09 – 11/10
    Project Title: Parsing the Insula for Understanding Its Role in Moral Action
    Role: Principal Investigator
  • Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series Award ($100,000) 1/08 – 12/09
    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


Prof. Spezio is a computational cognitive neuroscientist specializing in valuation, emotion, and decision making in interaction. He joined Scripps College after completing postdoctoral fellowships in UC Davis' Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science and in the laboratory of Ralph Adolphs at Caltech. He has edited several interdisciplinary volumes on religion & science and science and virtue.

Courses Taught

  • Machine Learning Using Neural Signals (NEUR182)
  • Data Science Ethics & Justice (PSYC183)
  • Autism Spectrum (PSYC132)
  • Psychological Statistics (PSYC103)
  • Computational Psychiatry (NEUR184)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience + Lab (NEUR123/NEUR123L)
  • Social Neuroscience (NEUR129)
  • Emotion (PSYC130)
  • Core 3: Neuroethics
  • Foundations of Neuroscience (NEUR095L)

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