WASHINGTON—Two major foundations have put up $12 million to get a new discipline off the ground. They’ve drafted neurobiologists and cognitive scientists as pilot and copilot in the hope that, once airborne, cognitive neuroscience will improve our understanding of the biological basis of complete behavior.

In December, the McDonnell-Pew Program in Cognitive Neuroscience will award $1.2 million grants to six institutions to help crystallize efforts in this hybrid approach to mastering the mind-brain connection. More than a dozen universities aie competing for the prize, to be spread over three years, and last week they made their pitch. The schools include the University of Arizona, Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Iowa, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McGill, the University of Oregon, Oxford, the University of Pittsburgh, Yale, and a consortium including the Scripps Clinic; the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; and the University of California, San Diego. The program...

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