Ralph Adolphs was born in Cologne, Germany, and grew up in Vancouver, Canada. He completed undergraduate studies in chemistry and biology at Stanford University and obtained his Ph.D. in neurobiology from the California Institute of Technology in 1992. He subsequently completed postdoctoral work at the University of Iowa with Antonio Damasio, studying emotion and social behavior in patients with focal brain lesions. In the early 2000s, he collaborated with Joe Piven and became interested in research on autism.
Adolphs’ work focuses on how people perceive emotions and other social signals when interacting with others. The studies include electrophysiological recordings, neuroimaging, eye tracking and other behavioral measures. A main overarching goal is to combine and make comparisons across these different approaches to better understand how the brain processes social information in both health and disease.