Lab Photo, Fall 2023. From left to right: Joseph Outa, Sally Berson, Sholei Croom, Qiong Cao, Shari Liu, Di Liu, Tal Boger, Minjae Kim, Sam Maione

In the  Look, Infer, and Understand (LIU) Lab  at Johns Hopkins University, we are interested in how our minds and brains reason about the physical and social world. We study the developmental and neural origins of these abilities. 

Figure from Liu et al. (2017), Science. The figure describes the principles behind inverse planning over utilities, including (a) rational action selection over costs and rewards, (b) observing costly actions and inferring rewards, and then using those rewards to predict new actions. Each portion is accompanied by a cartoon drawing.

Origins in development

When we think about other people, we represent their actions as motivated by intentions and goals, as costly to execute, and as causing effects in the world. What are the representations and computations that support these intuitions, and how do they develop?

Brain pictures from an fMRI scan (left - a contrast map showing activations for psychological over physical content, in red and yellow, over two datasets; on the right, the reverse contrast in blue.

Origins in the brain

One hypothesis we're interested in is that understanding other people’s minds and actions depends on physical reasoning. What domain-specific and domain-general neural computations support our ability to reason about people’s actions, performed with a physical body in a physical world?

Recent Work

Image of infant, with green bounding box drawn around their face, and an arrow indicating where they are looking

Erel et al. (2023, Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science)

Still from animation, where a purple ball is hovering in midair

Liu, Lydic, Mei, & Saxe (2024, Imaging Neuroscience)