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Mingling with the world’s most influential businessmen, politicians and educators, University President Peter Salovey and six other Yale faculty members and fellows presented Yale’s leading research and spoke about the importance of neuroscience at the 2019 World Economic Forum last week.

The Forum — which is held in Davos, Switzerland every January as a colloquium for pressing global issues  — has been an annual stop for Yale presidents since the early 2000s. According to Salovey, former University President Richard Levin frequently attended the forum, and Salovey has attended every year since his inauguration in 2013.

This year, six Yale faculty members and fellows — including Psychology professors Laurie Santos, Hedy Kober and Molly Crockett, History professor Timothy Snyder, Economics professor Robert Shiller and Jackson Institute distinguished fellow for global affairs John Kerry — joined Salovey in Davos. At an event called IdeasLab, Santos, Kober and Crockett discussed their psychology research and the neuroscience of happiness. And in an introductory speech prior to their presentations, Salovey emphasized the importance of psychiatry, neurology and psychology fields and highlighted the key findings of the professors’ research. Neuroscience is one of the five top-priority areas identified by the University Science Strategy Committee, a group convened by Yale Provost Ben Polak to identify areas in the sciences in which Yale has historically struggled.

“The primary reason I attend is to showcase the research of Yale’s faculty,” Salovey said in a statement to the News. “The work and thinking of the faculty in attendance is highlighted in the conference program. But I also share with the world business, government, and NGO leaders the groundbreaking research coming out of Yale that will be necessary to solve the greatest challenges facing our global community today.”

Salovey said the forum presents an opportunity to speak to the media on “how the research and education taking place at universities has an impact on nations, societies, and individuals.” In years past, US Presidents have attended the forum, including President Donald Trump, whose administration has taken steps to stifle higher education funding and endowment earnings. In the 2016 forum, Salovey spoke about the importance of preserving cultural heritage, and in 2017, he emphasized the value of the humanities.

In an email to the News, Santos said Salovey’s office invited her, Kober and Crockett to speak at “IdeasLab” event last summer. Salovey and his office staff were “quite involved” in curating the faculty members’ involvement at the World Economic Forum, Kober said. She noted that Salovey effectively highlighted the ongoing neuroscience research at Yale prior to their presentations.

At the event, Santos — who taught the popular psychology course “Psychology and the Good Life” last semester — discussed misconceptions of happiness while Kober focused on the positive benefits of mindfulness for individuals and organizations. Crockett presented research on the value of money and morality.

“Our Ideas Lab was really awesome,” Kober said. “It always feels like a great privilege to tell people about my work in a way that might help them live better. It was a very popular session, a full house inside with a line going out the door… That said, … I had the thought that the majority of discussions were ultimately not about well being.”

Still, Kober said the University’s participation in the forum demonstrated how research on well-being and mindfulness conducted at higher education institutions can benefit the public.

In an email to the News, Director of the Pierce Laboratory and professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of neuroscience, Vincent Pieribone, said Salovey’s speech about the importance of neuroscience research and investment is a reflection of renewed interest in the field. Yale’s scientists have long conducted leading research in neuroscience but has not had “as much as the institutional support as it probably could have,” Pieribone said.

Snyder presented on the past, present, and future of Ukraine at the Ukraine House on Jan. 24, while Shiller talked about bitcoin and the U.S. stock market.

Serena Cho | serena.cho@yale.edu and

Jose Davila IV | jose.davilaiv@yale.edu 

SERENA CHO
JOSE DAVILA IV
Jose Davila currently serves as a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale-New Haven Relations as a staff reporter. He is a junior in Morse College majoring in Global Affairs.