Dr. Jean Decety

Jean Decety is Irving B. Harris Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago annd its College. He is a leading scholar on the social and affective neuroscience of empathy, morality, justice motivation, and prosocial behavior, as well as other topics related to neurobiological underpinnings of social cognition. His work has led to new understandings on how affective and cognitive processes are involved in moral decision-making in typically developing individuals as well as criminal psychopaths. His research uses neuroimaging techniques (functional MRI and high-density EEG) and genetic in both children and adults.


Dr. Decety is the co-founder (with John Cacioppo) of the Society for Social Neuroscience. He co-edited the Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience (2011), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (2009), Empathy from Bench to Bedside (2012), and The Moral Brain - A Multidisciplinary Perspective  (2015) at MIT Press.


Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab

Department of Psychology - University of Chicago

5848 S. University Avenue

Chicago, IL 60637





Educational Background

  • Habilitation as Director of Research (Cognitive Neuroscience), University Claude Bernard, France, 1994
  • Ph.D. (Neurobiology), cum laude, University Claude Bernard, 1989
  • Advanced Master of Science (Biological and Medical Engineering), University Claude Bernard, France, 1987
  • Advanced Master of Arts and Science (Cognitive Psychology), University Lumière, France, 1986
  • Advanced Master of Science (Neuroscience), University Claude Bernard, 1985
  • Bachelor of Arts and Science (Psychology with Major in Neuropsychology & Minor in Psychopathology), University Lumière, 1983
  • Baccalaureate section D (Natural Sciences and Mathematics), 1978




  • Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science (2011)
  • Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (2009)
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Favaloro University Medical School, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2010)
  • British Council Fellowship for a stay at the University of Oxford (1991)
  • Fyssen Foundation Fellowship (1990-1991)


Research Skills

  • Affective neuroscience
  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Developmental social neuroscience
  • Functional brain imaging (PET, fMRI, DTI, ERPs, MEG)
  • Human neuroanatomy and neurophysiology
  • Psychopathology
  • Social cognition
  • Social neuroscience

Research Interests

  • Antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy
  • Conduct disorder
  • Developmental psychology
  • Empathy and caring
  • Interpersonal processes
  • Moral reasoning and decision-making
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Social emotions


Read a story about my research on affective neuroscience in the University of Chicago Magazine, April 2006.

Read an interview on why I became motivated to study empathy, from the  2010 CCSN Newsletter. Read more >

Read an interview from the 2011 University of Chicago Social Science Division Newsletter about why we established the Society for Social Neuroscience. Read more >



Main Research Projects

  • The neuroscience of morality and social evaluations in toddlers and children, 2013-present
  • Development of moral decision-making, empathy and prosocial behavior across cultures, 2012-present
  • Medical wisdom in medical residents, 2012-present
  • An animal model of empathy and helping behavior, 2010-present
  • Developmental social neuroscience of implicit moral reasoning in children and adolescents, 2008-present
  • Empathy deficits in children with aggressive conduct disorder, 2007-present
  • Dysfunction of empathy and its expression in individuals who vary in psychopathic traits, 2008-present
  • Cognitive neuroscience of empathy and sympathy, 2001-2012
  • Cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in imitation and intersubjectivity, 1999-2006
  • Neural underpinnings of perspective taking, 1999-present
  • The perception of causation in healthy subjects and schizophrenic patients, 1999-2003
  • Theory of mind in normal subjects and schizophrenic patients, 1998-2003
  • The perception and the understanding of human actions, 1996-2000
  • The neurophysiological basis of mental simulation of action in healthy subjects and neurological patients, 1991-1996



Past Appointments

  • Director of Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Washington, Seattle, 2001-2005
  • Head of Neurophysiology of Intentionality Unit at INSERM unit 280, Lyon, France, 1997-2001
  • Junior and then senior researcher at INSERM unit 94, Bron, France, 1991-1996
  • Post-doctoral scholar at the Karolinska Hospital and Institute, Stockholm, Sweden in the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology and Neuroradiology, PET-Division, 1990-1991
  • Ph.D. student at Lund University Hospital, Lund, Sweden in the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, SPECT-section, 1988-1990



Professional Memberships

  • American Physiological Society
  • American Psychological Association
  • Association for Psychological Science
  • Cognitive Development Society
  • Cognitive Neuroscience Society
  • International Society for Justice Research
  • Jean Piaget Society
  • Society for Neuroscience
  • Society for Social Neuroscience (president, 2012-2014)
  • Society for Personality and Social Psychology
  • Society for Research in Child Development
  • Organization for Human Brain Mapping



Editorial Duties

  • Development and Psychopathology (Editorial Board Member)
  • European Journal of Neuroscience (Editorial Board Member)
  • Frontiers in Emotion Science (Associate Editor)
  • Neuropsychologia (Editorial Board Member)
  • Scientific World Journal (Editorial Board Member)
  • Social Neuroscience (Founder of the journal and Editor in Chief from 2006-2013)