Advancing the Science of Learning, Health, and Behavior

The Center's Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series is open to all University students, faculty, and the general public and provides a venue to interact with distinguished scholars whose creative research has made significant advances in the field of child development. This series spotlights these leaders’ bold contributions to the science of child development and the implications of their research on the worlds of education, policy, public health, medicine, justice, and economic development. The series analyzes how their research catalyzes new ways of thinking across disciplines to inform policy and practice.


Pat-Levitt-Lecture-Poster.gifThe Neurobiology of Social Behavior Development

Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

Science Director, National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
Provost Professor of Neuroscience, Psychiatry & Pharmacy; Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California

Tuesday, April 9, 2013; 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Fong Auditorium
Boylston Hall, Harvard Yard
Cambridge, Mass.

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Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.

Julius B. Richmond FAMRI Professor of Child Health and Development, Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Graduate School of Education
Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital
Director, Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

This lecture was co-sponsored with the Conte Center at Harvard University, and was free and open to the public.



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Humans are highly interactive socially, and early in life must learn the meaning of cues in their environment that are essential for developing social skills and controlling emotions. But not all individuals develop these skills to the same extent. There are striking individual differences in the quality of social behavior in typically developing children and in those with neurodevelopmental disorders. There is also great diversity in the quality of social behavior across—and within— other species. But how does social behavior develop? Improved understanding of this developmental process can help us identify children who are at greater risk for a range of poor outcomes in school, at work, and in building healthy relationships with others—and to design innovative approaches that positively influence the development of social skills. This presentation focused on research that examines the development of social behavior in humans and animals and how it relates to certain types of early learning, and discussed how the research can chart a way forward to better understanding of the biological basis for individual differences.


Pat Levitt, Ph.D., received his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroscience at Yale University. Dr. Levitt has held leadership positions at several medical schools, including Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. Named a McKnight Foundation Scholar in 2002, Dr. Levitt also was a MERIT awardee from the National Institute of Mental Health and recently completed his term as a member of the National Advisory Mental Health Council for the National Institute of Mental Health. He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. He serves as Science Director of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and Director of the Marino Autism Research Institute. He is a member of a number of scientific advisory boards for foundations and university programs, and also is a member of six editorial boards of basic and clinical neuroscience journals. Dr. Levitt’s research focuses on the development of brain architecture that controls learning, emotional and social behavior. His human genetics and basic research studies focus on understanding the causes of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, and how genes and the environment together influence typical and atypical development. Dr. Levitt has published over 225 scientific papers and is a frequently invited speaker at national and international scientific seminars and conferences. He also is an avid participant in business and policy forums that promote investments in the health and education of brain and child development. Dr. Levitt presents to state legislatures and to business groups, and in 2007, he spoke at the Summit on America’s Children for House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.



Past Lecture Series

Read about previous years of the Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series >>