Kalina Christoff

Wall Scholar




Department of Psychology





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Kalina Christoff

Kalina Christoff served as Interim Director of the Peter Wall Institute from June 2019 to June 2021.

She has a long-standing relationship with the Institute, having been an Early Career Scholar in 2005, a Wall Scholar in 2017 and a primary recipient for an International Research Roundtable in 2018. During her residence at the Institute, she focused on building a self-sustained and vibrant community of scientists and practitioners dedicated to understanding the full complexity of human imagination, together with its relationship to mental functioning and individual as well as societal wellbeing.

Kalina Christoff’s work focuses on understanding human thought, using a combination of functional neuroimaging (fMRI), behavioral testing, and theoretical work. Her research spans the full spectrum of thought processes: from spontaneous thought, including phenomena such as mind-wandering and daydreaming; to goal-directed thought, including deliberate reasoning and problem solving; to creative thought, which combines deliberate and spontaneous modes of thought in a dynamic and interactive fashion. Dr. Christoff also researchers introspection, meta-cognition, boredom, meditation, dreaming, and different forms of self-experience. Her research relates all these mental phenomena to their neural correlates, by constructing neuroscientific models grounded in current scientific understanding of the dynamic interactions between large-scale brain systems, including the default, salience, and frontoparietal control networks.

Primary Recipient Awards

Kalina Christoff – International Research Roundtables – 2018

From Villain to Virtuoso: The Role of Spontaneous Thought in Science and Society
The field of cognitive neuroscience has recently made tremendous inroads into understanding the ‘default network’ of the brain, a newly identified brain system that is now seen as closely linked to mind wandering. At the same time, we are beginning to establish how deliberation and spontaneity come together synergistically at the cognitive and neural levels to achieve the feat of human creativity. Elsewhere in science, research on sleep is revealing the intricacies of what may lie at the basis of human dream imagination.
These scientific developments are fascinating and powerful; yet they remain isolated from each other because they are currently embedded within disparate scientific disciplines. Moreover, they are further isolated from other developments that are also relevant to understanding spontaneous thought but are occurring in fields outside of traditional sciences, in areas such as philosophy, education, human development, sociology, artificial intelligence, and contemplative practice. The goal of this International Research Roundtable meeting is overcome this separation. Our main objectives are; 1) to advance the Science of Spontaneous Thought through Interdisciplinary Interactions, and 2) to explore Societal Attitudes towards Spontaneous Thought and their Changing Trends. It is our hope that the roundtable will galvanize interdisciplinary collaborations in the field of spontaneous thought, and help shape research and theoretical advances in the study of spontaneous cognitive phenomena throughout the next decade. By bridging multiple disciplines, it will give rise to innovative lines of research and inform future public policy.

Kalina Christoff – Wall Scholars – 2017

During her tenure as a Wall Scholar, Dr. Christoff will focus on building a new interdisciplinary field dedicated to the study of human imagination. This field, Imagination Science, will bring together scientists from diverse disciplines including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, sociology and anthropology, as well as experts from fields outside the traditional sciences, including the creative arts, education, human development and the contemplative traditions. The goal is to build a self-sustained and vibrant community of scientists and practitioners dedicated to understanding the full complexity of human imagination, together with its relationship to mental functioning and individual as well as societal wellbeing.

Kalina Christoff – Early Career Scholars – 2005
Kalina Christoff – Exploratory Workshops – 2005

This workshop took place Apr 27-29, 2006.
Understanding the mechanisms of volition and self-directed behaviour is one of the most intriguing and important issues in contemporary neuroscience and a topic of intense research. The ability to produce purposeful intelligent behaviour that is highly adapted for our complex and ever-changing environments is a hallmark ability of higher primates. It reaches its greatest development in humans, enabling us to initiate goal-directed activities of astonishing complexity. This ability also provides the basis of our sense of agency, identify, and self. The processes that allow us to engage in such volitional, conscious behaviour are known as ‘executive functions’ and have been strongly linked to the anterior region of the brain, known as the prefrontal cortex. In the past several years, UBC has attracted a critical number of researchers who specialize in executive and prefrontal functions, from clinical investigators of mental disorders to basic scientists in neurophysiology and neuroimaging of prefrontal functions.
The proposed workshop will combine a strong basic research component in neural and cognitive sciences with the most recent findings from clinical neuroscience and the mechanisms of disorders of executive functions. Leading researchers from the local UBC community will be represented, along with key international experts in diverse areas related to executive functions.
This workshop will foster discussion and scientific interactions that will help the much needed transfer of knowledge between clinical work and basic research in this area, and will determine future directions for theoretical and applied work. In bringing together researchers from several departments at UBC, this program will assist in building interactions and a strong local community. Of equal importance, it will also enhance international visibility and recognition to UBC as a centre of expertise and research excellence in the area of executive and prefrontal cortex functions.

Co-Principal Investigator Awards

Jonathan Schooler – International Visiting Research Scholars – 2018