A Fresh Take on Depression

The Rubin Museum of Art’s Brainwave talk on depression last Friday night left the audience upbeat and, more than anything, captivated by the courageous and hilarious discussion of depression between author and comedian Jacqueline Novak and psychologist Douglas Mennin, Ph.D.


Jacqueline Novak (left), Douglas Mennin, Ph.D. (right). Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum.

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Sondheim and Pinker on Music and Emotion

When it comes to explanations for human behavior, preeminent experimental psychologist Steven Pinker, Ph.D., adamantly believes that genes matter. When others question this position, claiming that attributing emotion and behavior to genetics is merely a way of evading responsibility, Pinker will often offer a cultural rather than a scientific response:

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,

You gotta understand

It’s just our bringing up-ke,

That gets us out of hand.

Our mothers are all junkies,

Our fathers all are drunks.

Golly Moses naturally we’re punks

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New Brainwave Series: Emotion

Can consciousness continue after the brain stops working? Why do we seem to let emotions outshine reason during the decision-making process? Which neural impulses trigger laughter?

Rubin Museum Brainwave 2016

Detail from White Tara with Long Life Deities; eastern Tibet; 19th century; pigments on cloth; Rubin Museum of Art, gift of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation; F1996.32.5 (HAR 542) | Copyright Taylor Walken/Corbis

Beginning in February, New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art will host its ninth annual Brainwave series, which aims to answer these questions and more. Continue reading

New in Cerebrum: What Makes Me, Me?


The question of how individual differences in behavior and personality develop—especially in terms of the interaction between genes and the environment—has proved to be a formidable challenge in neuroscience. In “One of a Kind: The Neurobiology of Individuality,” the featured Cerebrum article for June, Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., impressively summarizes mounting new imaging evidence that suggests brain circuits involved in our emotional responses are highly plastic and change with experience, affecting our disposition. He also points to new research that suggests that psychological interventions can further harness brain plasticity to promote positive behavioral changes—changes that increase resilience, well-being, and altruistic behavior.

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Triggering the Brain’s Emotional Response

A relentless rain didn’t keep attendees from filling the elegant auditorium at Columbia University’s Italian Academy for Tuesday evening’s panel discussion on “Shaping the Brain,” a Brain Awareness Week event that also celebrated the Mind Brain Behavior Institute—a university-wide effort to integrate neuroscience with allied disciplines like psychology and statistics, but also studies in the humanities and social sciences.

“I see neuroscience as providing a modern angle on concepts derived and cultivated outside itself,” said Columbia faculty and Dana Alliance member Michael Shadlen. “It’s a two-way exchange, a dialogue.”

Among the three Columbia professors who discussed their work, art historian David Freedberg best exemplified this broad vision. When he began his studies in the 70s, he said, “one was not allowed to talk about emotions in art, let alone the notion that when you look at a picture, your body is involved in the experience.”

But this, he felt sure, was essential to the universal power of great artworks. “My aim was to reinsert emotions and the body back into the esthetic experience…and even in the mid-1980s I realized we couldn’t go ahead without understanding the neural substrate of our emotional, visceral, physical responses to works of art.”

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