Psychology Professor Luiz Pessoa Named Interim Director of UMD’s Brain and Behavior Institute

University of Maryland Psychology Professor Luiz Pessoa has been named interim director of the university’s Brain and Behavior Institute (BBI) until June 30, 2025.

Luiz Pessoa headshot
Luiz Pessoa. Photo courtesy of same.

“With expertise spanning six colleges and schools and dozens of disciplines, the Brain and Behavior Institute is a prime example of UMD’s approach to place interdisciplinary collaboration at the center of our work,” said UMD Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice. “Under Dr. Pessoa’s leadership, the BBI will continue to be at the forefront of cutting-edge neuroscience research to both address society’s most pressing issues and put that knowledge to use for the public good.”

The Brain and Behavior Institute is a community of more than 100 faculty members who pursue a multidisciplinary approach to neuroscience research to tackle some of the most pressing problems related to nervous system function in development, aging and disease.

The institute was founded in 2021, following a successful campus initiative to support brain and behavior research that began in 2015. From 2015 through 2020, the initiative provided $1.75 million in seed grants to 27 projects and yielded a seven-fold return on that investment through external funding from federal grants, private foundations and corporations. Since 2021, the institute provided $1.5 million in seed grants and was awarded $3.8 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation.

“I am grateful that Luiz agreed to serve in this capacity,” said Amitabh Varshney, dean of UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS). “The BBI plays an important role on our campus by allowing us to leverage our strengths and focus our resources on the most promising, innovative approaches to neuroscience.”

The BBI is administered by CMNS in collaboration with the College of Arts and Humanities, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, College of Education, A. James Clark School of Engineering, and School of Public Health.

“I’m very excited to contribute to the growth of the Brain and Behavior Institute,” said Pessoa, who leads the Laboratory of Cognition and Emotion and directs the Maryland Neuroimaging Center. “The field of neuroscience is experiencing very rapid growth and the BBI will play a key role in our campus’ ability to shape this evolution.”

In his research, Pessoa uses behavioral and functional MRI methods to study interactions between cognition and emotion in humans. His research embraces a distributed view of both emotion and cognition processing in the brain and seeks to uncover the impact of emotion and motivation across large-scale cortical-subcortical brain networks. His research shows emotion and motivation have broad effects on the brain and behavior, leading to the idea of the “entangled brain,” where brain parts dynamically assemble into coalitions that support complex cognitive-emotional behaviors.

He has authored two books on his research, “The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration” and “The Entangled Brain: How Perception, Cognition, and Emotion Are Woven Together,” and published over 150 journal articles.

Pessoa received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and computer engineering from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and his Ph.D. in computational neuroscience at Boston University. Before joining UMD in 2011, he was an assistant professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, a visiting fellow at the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health, an assistant professor at Brown University and an associate professor with tenure at Indiana University.

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 8,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and nine interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $250 million.