Dr. Matthew Belmonte

Grant Category: Fulbright-Nehru Senior Researcher
Field of Specialization: Departmental Psychology
Name: Dr. Matthew Belmonte       
Official Address and Designation: Assistant Professor
Cornell University – Ithaca
Department of Human Development,
College of Human Ecology Ithaca, New York
Indian Host Institution: Presidency University
Kolkata, West Bengal
Duration of Grant & Start Date : 9 months
July 2011

Brief Bio:
Dr. Matthew Belmonte is at present involved with studying neurobiology autism. After completing his undergraduate studies in computer science and English literature, Dr. Belmonte pursued postgraduate degrees in fiction writing and in neuroscience; his scholarship is woven across all these threads. His research asks that what it is that distinguishes autistic and non-autistic siblings within families, and also what these siblings have in common. His work has shown that many of the same biological changes that help cause autism also underlie normal variation in human brains and minds, placing each individual somewhere on a continuum of cognitive types between attention to details and to one's own perspective on the one hand, and consideration of context and of social partners on the other. These relationships link the neuroscience of autism to human cognitive and cultural diversity, to the critical theory that describes literary, artistic and cognitive representations and to philosophical and anthropological questions of how a finite human mind uses symbols and categories to comprehend a world of infinite detail. Dr. Belmonte has worked with Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd at McLean Hospital, and Eric Courchesne at the University of California San Diego, and has served on the faculty of Cornell University. He is the recipient of a 2009 US national Science foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award and the 2010 Neil O'Connor Award from the British Psychological Society, and is the author of several scientific publications and essays, as well as fiction and plays.
Recent work in social psychology and social neuroscience shows that culture affects brain function. India provides a unique environment for the study of autism, a neurodevelopment condition that impairs social and communicative function, because its socially interdependent culture may function as a partial antidote to austic traits. A convergence of clinical and cultural neuropsychological research shows that many of the same traits that define autism when taken to extremes, also distinguish socially independent cultures from more socially interdependent cultures. Dr. Belmonte's Fulbright-Nehru research project will compare Indian and American autistic and typical cognitive profiles.