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Dean Mobbs

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience; Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair, Caltech Brain Imaging Center; Director, Caltech Brain Imaging Center
Dean Mobbs
Contact information for Dean Mobbs
Contact Method Value
Mail Code: MC 228-77
Office: 319 Baxter Hall
Phone: 626-395-4028
Administrative Assistant:
B.S., University of Birmingham, 1999; Ph.D., University College London, 2008. Assistant Professor, Caltech, 2016-20; Professor, 2020-; Chen Scholar, 2019-21; Davis Leadership Chair, 2021-; Director, 2021-.

Research Interests

Social, Computational and Affective Neuroscience; Neuroecology and Neurophilosophy


Social and Decision Neuroscience


Dean Mobbs is interested in the intersection of behavioral ecology, economics, emotion, and social psychology. By understanding the neural, computational and behavioral dynamics of human social and emotional experiences, he wants to develop theoretical models that merge those fields.

Using brain-imaging, computational modeling and behavioral techniques, his lab is probing the neurobiological systems responsible for fear and anxiety, revealing how people learn to control their fears, and how anxiety and psychiatric disorders disrupt those processes. He's interested in the value of social behavior. In particular, he's trying to determine the behavioral and neural signatures behind positive social interactions—for example, those involved with altruism, empathy, and when viewing others' success as rewarding (vicarious reward and reflected glory). His research also focuses on the interplay between social interaction and emotion—how fear can depend on whether you're alone or in a group (e.g. risk dilution).

Prior to Caltech, Mobbs was an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University and a research assistant at Stanford University. His awards include the APS Janet Spence Award For Transformative Early Career Contributions (2015) and the NARSAD Young Investigator Award (2015). He is a life fellow of Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge.

Selected Publications

Mobbs, D, Trimmer, P., Blumstein, D.T., Dayan, P. (2018).  Foraging for foundations in decision neuroscience: Insights from ethology. Nature Reviews, Neuroscience.

Qi, S., Hassabis, D., Sun, J., Guo, F., Daw, N., and Mobbs, D.  (2018). How Cognitive and Reactive Fear Circuits Optimize Escape Decisions in Humans. PNAS. 115 (12), 3186-3191.

Qi, S., Footer, O., Camerer, C., and Mobbs, D.  (2018).  A collaborator's reputation can bias decisions and anxiety under uncertainty. Journal of Neuroscience. 38 (9), 2262-2269.

Mobbs, D. (2018). The ethological deconstruction of fear(s). Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences.

Camerer, C. and Mobbs, D. (2017). Comparing cognitive and neural processes during hypothetical and real choices. Trends in Cognitive Science. 21, 1, 46-56.

Perkins, A., Arnone, D., Smallwood, J., and Mobbs, D. (2015). Thinking too much: Self-generated thought as the engine of neuroticism. Trends in Cognitive Science. 19, 9, 492–498.

Mobbs, D. and Kim J. (2015). Neuroethological studies of fear and risky decision-making in rat and humans. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 5, 8-15.

Mobbs, D., Hassabis, D. Yu, R., Chu, C., Rushworth, M., Boorman, E., Dalgleish, T. (2013).  Foraging under competition: The neural basis of input matching in humans. Journal of Neuroscience. 33; 9866-9872.

FeldmanHall, O., Dalgleish, T. Thompson, R., Evans, D., Schweizer, S., Mobbs, D. (2012). Differential Neural Circuitry and Self-Interest in Real versus Hypothetical Moral Decisions. Social, Cognitive and Affect Neuroscience. 7 (7), 743-751.

Mobbs, D., Yu, R., Rowe, J., Eich, H., Feldmanhall, O., Dalgleish, T. (2010).  Neural activity associated with monitoring the oscillating threat value of a Tarantula. PNAS. 107: 20582-6.

Mobbs, D., Meyer, M., Yu, R., Passamonti, L., Seymour, B.J., Calder A.J., Schweizer, S., Frith, C.D., Dalgleish, T. (2009).  A key role for similarity in vicarious reward. Science. 324, 900.

Takahashi, H., Kato, M., Matsuura, M., Mobbs, D., Suhara, T., Okubo, Y. (2009). When Your Gain Is My Pain and Your Pain is My Gain: Neural Correlates of Envy and Schandenfreude. Science. 323, 937-939.

Mobbs, D., Petrovic, P., Marchant, J., Hassabis, D., Seymour, B., Weiskopf, N., Dolan, R.J., Frith, C.D (2007). When Fear is Near: Threat Imminence Elicits Prefrontal - Periaqueductal Grey Shifts in Humans. Science. 317; 1079-1083.