Ralph Adolphs studies the neural and psychological basis for human social behavior. His work has focused on examining how people recognize, perceive, and process emotions and other social cues in facial expressions. Some of the questions his lab is trying to answer are: How do people make social and moral judgments? How do they make emotionally charged decisions? Why do people with autism have difficulties with social behavior? The goal is to better understand how both healthy and atypical brains work.
Adolphs uses various techniques in his lab, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, eye tracking, and recording electrical activity in the brain. He studies neurological patients with focal brain damage, those with neuropsychiatric diseases such as autism and Williams syndrome, and neurosurgical patients who have electrodes in their brains. From these experiments, he's investigating how data from individual brain cells can be connected to neuroimaging data and, ultimately, to behavior.
Adolphs was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iowa from 1993 to 1997. He then joined the faculty at the University of Iowa before moving to Caltech in 2004. Since then, Adolphs has held an adjunct appointment in the Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa.
In 2010 he became a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and in 2011 he was president of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. In 2012, the National Institute of Mental Health awarded Adolphs and his team a $10 million, five-year grant to establish the Caltech Conte Center for the Neurobiology of Social Decision Making, of which Adolphs now serves as director. His awards and honors include the Distinguished Investigator Award from the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society (2013), the top-cited article prize from Current Opinion in Neurobiology (2010), the ASCIT Award for Excellence in Mentoring Research from Caltech (2007), a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator award (2005), a James S. McDonnell Foundation "21st Century Science" Award in Bridging Mind, Brain, and Behavior (2002), a Klingenstein Award in the Neurosciences (2000), and an EJLB Foundation Scholar Research Award (1998).