Ask Steven Fluharty, Dean of Penn Arts and Sciences, 10 questions about any topic at all—show biz, current events, the 2016 presidential election—and it’s likely that at least nine of his answers will reference our need to map the mind. Such is his conviction, and, no surprise, such was the theme of the most recent BEN Talks.

On June 21, Penn alumni and friends joined faculty members at New York’s The Union Club for Penn Arts and Science’s second BEN Talks. Modeled after the popular TED Talks, BEN Talks gives participating faculty members ten minutes each to deliver a highlight reel of their research. Hosted by Trustee and Penn Arts and Sciences Overseer Dhan Pai, W’83, and his wife, Heena, both PAR’12, PAR’15, Mind Matters: Three Takes on Judgement and Decision-Making, affirmed Penn’s incredible dedication to understanding the brain.

Following an hour-long networking reception, emcee Sharon Thompson-Schill, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology, took the stage and succinctly summarized, “What is the common problem central to the understanding of human nature? Choice.”

A provocative evening of discussion around factors that influence decision making, faculty presented on how stress can exacerbate genetic vulnerabilities in children, how different strategies can lead to making rational decisions, and how our choices are shaped by evolution.

Joe Kable –

“Why do people quit?” is the driving question behind the research of Joe Kable, Baird Term Associate Professor. He noted, “Research shows that people’s estimation of how long it is going for them to take to reach their goal increases as the person is participating in trying to achieve the goal – getting farther and farther away from your goal the longer you work towards it.”



Sara Jaffee -

Sara Jaffee presented on how behaviors reflect poor choices, whether they are rational or not. “Children aren’t born bad. Some individuals are more inclined to participate in impulsive activities. But…those aggressive and impulsive tendencies can be tempered and vice versa.” Her work has found that “the extent to which genetic risk is associated with bad behavior depends greatly on how a child is raised.”



Michael Platt -

Studying innovation, self-control, compassion, and how people connect with others is at the heart of Michael Platt’s work. The James S. Riepe University Professor, Professor of Neuroscience, Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Marketing, Platt addressed the neural basis of cognitive behavior and how to increase and enhance human capacity. “If we can understand how the brain makes decisions, it will allow us to help them make better decisions.”


Serving as host-committee volunteers were Eddie Chung, C'95; Jacqueline Friedland, C'99, L'00; Stephen Glass, C'03; Pasha Gol, C'12; Jamie Handwerker, C'83, PAR'19; Michael Jackman, C'85; Ahalya Nava, C'94; Monique Péan, C'03; Amy Shanus, C'82, PAR'17; Joshua Siegel, C'07; Jonathan Tretler, C'93, WG'97; and Caitlin Vieth, C'12.