Kevin Dunbar

PopTech 2010

Kevin Dunbar

Kevin Dunbar is professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and a member of the University of Toronto program in neuroscience. He conducts research on the ways that people think in complex situations.

Dunbar grew up in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, and obtained his PhD at the University of Toronto. He began work on complex thinking and the scientific mind at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. In 1988 he moved to McGill University in Montreal and continued his work on scientific thinking and discovery applying it to molecular biology. He pioneered a new way of investigating complex thinking in science, by investigating scientists as they worked at their lab meetings. This “in vivo approach” is important for understanding the ways that people really do science rather than the apocryphal stories we hear about scientific discovery or even the stories that scientists construct. He has found that while Pasteur was correct in saying that “chance favors the prepared mind” the nature of the prepared mind has been elusive.

Dunbar has used brain imaging techniques, interviews, and studies of different types of scientific labs, performing artists, and even politicians to discover what makes up the prepared mind. He is uncovering the ways that mistakes and the unexpected are turned into insights and discoveries that shape our world.