Professor of Neuroscience
University of Southern California
Damasio studied medicine at the University of Lisbon Medical School, where he also did his neurological residency and completed his doctorate. For part of his studies, he researched behavioral neurology under the supervision of Norman Geschwind of the Aphasia Research Center in Boston. Damasio's main field is neurobiology, especially the neural systems which underlie emotion, decision-making, memory, language and consciousness. Damasio might believe that emotions play a critical role in high-level cognition—an idea counter to dominant 20th-century views in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy. Damasio in 2008. Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis, a theory about how emotions and their biological underpinnings are involved in decision-making (both positively and negatively, and often non-consciously). Emotions provide the scaffolding for the construction of social cognition and are required for the self processes which undergird consciousness. "Damasio provides a contemporary scientific validation of the linkage between feelings and the body by highlighting the connection between mind and nerve cells ... this personalized embodiment of mind."
Damasio's research depended significantly on establishing the modern human lesion method, an enterprise made possible by Hanna Damasio's structural neuroimaging/neuroanatomy work complemented by experimental neuroanatomy (with Gary Van Hoesen and Josef Parvizi), experimental neuropsychology (with Antoine Bechara, Ralph Adolphs, and Dan Tranel) and functional neuroimaging (with Kaspar Meyer, Jonas Kaplan, and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang). The experimental neuroanatomy work with Van Hoesen and Bradley Hyman led to the discovery of the disconnection of the hippocampus caused by neurofibrillary tangles in the entorhinal cortex of patients with Alzheimer's disease. As a clinician, he and his collaborators have studied and treated disorders of behaviour and cognition, and movement disorders. Damasio's books deal with the relationship between emotions and their brain substrates. His 1994 book, Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, won the Science et Vie prize, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and is translated in over 30 languages. It is regarded as one of the most influential books of the past two decades. His second book, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, was named as one of the ten best books of 2001 by the New York Times Book Review, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and has over 30 foreign editions. Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, was published in 2003. In it, Damasio suggested that Spinoza's thinking foreshadowed discoveries in biology and neuroscience views on the mind-body problem and that Spinoza was a protobiologist. Damasio's latest book is Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. In it Damasio suggests that the self is the key to conscious minds and that feelings, from the kind he designates as primordial to the well-known feelings of emotion, are the basic elements in the construction of the protoself and core self. The book received the Corinne International Book Prize. Damasio at Fronteiras do Pensamento (Frontiers of Thought) in 2013 Damasio is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. He is the recipient of several prizes, amongst them the Grawemeyer Award, the Honda Prize, the Prince of Asturias Award in Science and Technology and the Beaumont Medal from the American Medical Association, as well as honorary degrees from, most recently, the Sorbonne (Université Paris Descartes), shared with his wife Hanna Damasio. He has also received doctorates from the Universities of Aachen, Copenhagen, Leiden, Barcelona, Coimbra, Leuven and numerous others. In 2013, the Escola Secundária António Damásio was dedicated in Lisbon. He says he writes in the belief that "scientific knowledge can be a pillar to help humans endure and prevail." He is married to Hanna Damasio, a prominent neuroscientist and frequent collaborator and co-author, who is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California and the director of the Dornsife Neuroimaging Center.