EAI Core Faculty Member Ajay Satpute Shares How AI is Helping to Advance the Understanding of Emotions - Institute for Experiential AI

EAI Core Faculty Member Ajay Satpute Shares How AI is Helping to Advance the Understanding of Emotions

Ajay Satpute

by Anna Fiorentino

The Institute of Experiential AI at Northeastern University researches and develops human-centric applications that advance the state-of-the-art in AI. We work closely with Northeastern University faculty members in their different areas of expertise to inject innovation and overcome roadblocks using the latest AI technology. In this Q&A with Northeastern University Assistant Professor Ajay Satpute, he weighs in on a new frontier in cognitive neuroscience that uses computational approaches to understand individual differences in social cognition and emotion.

In addition to being a core faculty member with EAI, Ajay is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Northeastern, the director of the Affective and Brain Sciences lab, and an investigator at one of the nation’s top hospitals, Massachusetts General Hospital.

EAI: How are you able to predict emotions or social cognition?
Ajay Satpute: People experience the same world in vastly different ways. I’m using AI with neuroscience to develop applications that predict how people represent people, including themselves, as having mental states of emotions, beliefs, etc. My lab is working with several EAI faculty members (Jennifer Dy, Sarah Ostaddabas, Deniz Erdogmus, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Karen Quigley) to develop our models.

EAI: Why is it important to understand more about individual differences in social cognition and emotion?
AS: Individual differences in emotion and social cognition underlie mental health and illness. By building and testing models that predict mental life from brain activity, we can better understand both shared and unique ways in which people experience the world and how this variation relates with mental health and illness. Doing so may lead to novel solutions to address mental illness that are more tailored to the individual.

EAI: What are you discovering about these differences in how we feel?
AS: We’re exploring how AI models are dependent on the individual, their cultural background, and demographic variables—which suggests that researchers have to be careful in their interpretations of AI models from any given experiment. For example, in one line of work on fear, we are finding that different neural patterns predict fear depending on the individual and context.

EAI: How is your approach different from the current field standards?
AS: Whereas much research in social and affective neuroscience focuses on the average person, or what is common across individuals, our more customized approach focuses on modeling the individual. Our approach is important for precision medicine applications that could change how clinicians diagnose, monitor, and intervene in mood and anxiety disorders, and potentially other mental health conditions.

EAI: How can teaming up with industry bring your research to life?
AS: There are now dozens of companies looking to understand skills in social and emotional intelligence to develop mind-brain health applications, social and emotional skill training, and mental health support for illnesses and disorders like depression, anxiety, and Autism. These companies can benefit from communicating with academic scholars who are at the cutting-edge of knowledge on these topics. And we academics have a lot to gain from understanding how to translate our findings to useful applications.

We are thrilled to have Ajay working as a core faculty member with EAI! To learn more about his work at the institute or how we can help your business find AI solutions and achieve its goals, please visit our website. You can also connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.



Ajay Satpute is an assistant professor in the psychology and neuroscience departments and director of the Affect and Brain Science lab. His research addresses fundamental questions about how the mind relates to the brain, from how language shapes emotional experience to whether brain activity alone can predict a person’s social or emotional state. Through brain imaging data, examining variation across participants, and computational modeling and machine learning, he develops data-driven approaches to advance both theory and research in cognitive neuroscience.

Prior to his current role at Northeastern, Satpute previously served as a senior research scientist for the university. He also worked as an assistant professor at Pomona College and a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University. He earned his doctoral and master’s degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity University.