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Brendan Bo O'Connor | Bren

Associate Professor | Suny Albany

PhD | Harvard University
MA | Harvard University

Where are you coming from?

From milking cows on a dairy farm as a kid to a running a lab as a professor of imagination, life has been an intellectual road trip. I received my B.A. from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and my Ph.D. from Harvard University, where I was a graduate student in the Memory Lab led by Dan Schacter. I was a postdoctoral researcher at Boston College in the Morality Lab led by Liane Young and affiliated with the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab led by Elizabeth Kensinger. During lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic I joined the Medical Reserve Corps of New York and helped create an ad hoc face shield factory out of a performance art venue. I then built a traveling existential minigolf course informed by research in cogntive science. As of fall 2023, I am an associate professor of psychology at SUNY Albany.

Who ARE You?

Bren is a cognitive scientist, scholar of imagination, and outsider artist. He is a recently appointed associate professor at University at Albany SUNY where he directs the Imagination & Cognition Lab, using psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience to investigate the role of future thinking and imagination in empathy, effective altruism, equality, intergroup processes, and morality. He is a member of the Purpose Makerspace, a puppeteer and parade tech marshal with Processional Arts Workshop, and the creator and director of the Lucid Dream Minigolf project funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and the Alliance of Resident Theatres New York. His work is visible in the scientific community through peer-reviewed research articles published in flagship journals (e.g., Psychological Science, PNAS, Cognition, Emotion, JPSP, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Trends in Cognitive Science, and Personality and Social Psychology Review). His research has been generously funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the Forrest Research Foundation, and federal institutions such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. He has engaged the broader public by consulting with PBS, writing for Scientific American and The Conversation, recording a piece for NPR, speaking at Columbia’s Center for Science and Society, and serving as a panelist and consultant for the Museum of Science, Boston for a conference on imagination accessible to artists, educators, and the general public. Most recently he was selected as a research fellow at the Strong National Museum of Play to study the development of play and imagination across the lifespan.

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