Coping is Not Created Equal: A Woman’s Military Experience

Human beings have always been resilient creatures. Whether we realize it or not, we possess the ability to adapt to various situations and survive them, often without even noticing how we managed it. Unfortunately, that does not always mean that the ways we adapt and what our coping mechanisms are can be healthy or particularly beneficial to us, whether in a short-term situation or in the long run. Avoidant coping mechanisms (or ones that involve the person basically withdrawing into themselves) can be especially harmful for various reasons, so figuring out why some may choose them is important.

How to cope with personal trauma was the theme of “Finding Resilience and Making Change in the Military,” a recent Brainwave series program at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan.

The program paired Anuradha Bhagwati, an Ivy League educated Marine Corps veteran, with Jennifer Chan, Ph.D., a pharmacologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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Bhagwati (left) and Chan (right). Photo: Rubin Museum

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Two Addiction Stories at the Rubin

Addiction, at its most ravenous, wreaks devastation in the brain when searching for dopamine, a chemical that plays a role in reward-motivated behavior.  For some, this means expulsion from several schools, unraveling relationships with family and friends, and struggling amidst homelessness. After ten years of insatiably chasing the next high, this series of events was the reality for a woman just beginning treatment for a substance abuse problem that began when she was a 13-year-old. In rehab, the revelation that addiction is a disease compelled her to consider the existence of a cure—one merely needed to search for it. This search proved to be the fuel in her becoming a behavioral neuroscientist studying the root causes of drug addiction.

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Judith Grisel, Ph.D.

The woman, now an accomplished scientist, is Judith Grisel, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Bucknell University and author of a new book, Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction (Doubleday, 2019). Grisel shared her compelling story, that of her 25 years of research and as a current recovering addict, was part of the Rubin Museum’s Brainwave: Power series, a program featuring discussions between “neuroscientists and notable personalities.”

At “The Power of Addiction,” Grisel spoke candidly with actor Zachary Quinto, known for his role as Spock in the reboot of the Star Trek franchise and more recently on Broadway as Harold in Boys in the Band. The duo shared intimate details of their embroilments with addiction (Quinto is also a recovering addict) and what the healing process entailed for them. Continue reading

The Power to Overcome Challenges

We all experience different forms of adversity in our lives, some more severe than others. But why do some people seem to crumble when faced with those challenges, while others remain optimistic and persevere? Do genetics play a role? Scientists are looking at the biological underpinnings of resilience for answers.

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Heather Berlin, Ph.D.

Diving into this subject, the Rubin Museum of Art welcomed three experts to the stage for the latest 2019 Brainwave program, “The Power to Overcome Challenges.” Heather Berlin, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist who spoke at the Rubin for a past Brainwave event and worked with her husband on a theatrical show about consciousness, sat between Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation, which was founded by her brother, baseball legend Derek Jeter, and Sampson Davis, M.D., an emergency room physician and co-founder of the Three Doctors Foundation. Together, Sampson and Jeter co-authored a book all about “the stuff”—two words that came up often as the group discussed trauma and resilience throughout the evening. Continue reading

Coben Reveals Secrets to Success

A recent Brainwave program focused on a best-selling author’s approach to writing thrillers. The featured guest was Harlan Coben, the 56-year-old author of 30 novels (seven New York Times No. 1 bestsellers) and a Jersey guy with a shaved head and a keen sense of humor. Matching wits and finding neuroscience angles was David Eagleman, the Stanford University-based author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, and the writer and host of the Emmy-nominated PBS television series The Brain.

The Rubin Museum in New York City advertised the science of suspense as the program’s theme, but the conversation covered any number of areas that a writer of thrillers considers: memory, empathy, manipulation, human nature, and consciousness, to name a few.

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Coben explained that he helped jumpstart his thought process for his next book by sitting and observing people in Strawberry Fields in Central Park for three days.

Coben’s stories almost always contain woods and basketball and are set in North Jersey, where he lives (Ridgewood) with his pediatrician wife and two dogs. Growing up in a loud, Jewish home in Livingston, he said storytelling was essential to be heard at the dinner table. Even with four children, he says he still thinks of himself as a 17-year-old who is waiting for his life to begin. He believes that every individual has their own compelling story to tell and, in discussing human nature, said with a twinge of sarcasm, “We think we are uniquely complex, and no one knows what is really going on inside us. At the same time, we all think we are very good at reading the thoughts of others.”

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The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind

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Photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum

On a recent night at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, neuroscientist Barbara Lipska, Ph.D., sat down with journalist Jake Halpern as part of the museum’s annual Brainwave series. The discussion gave audience members the unique opportunity to hear a lucid perspective of what it’s like to experience psychosis. The interview was also particularly intimate because, in addition to his successful career as a writer, Halpern also happens to be Lipska’s son-in-law. His questions stemmed from firsthand experiences he shared with her as she battled malignant brain tumors that caused the psychotic episodes and nearly took her life.

As director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health, Lipska studies schizophrenia by analyzing postmortem brain dissections and observing the behavior of rats that have a disconnection between the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. “They’re actually not as different as we would like to think,” she said of the rats. “They’re smaller, that’s for sure, and they don’t have this convoluted frontal cortex. But they are very intelligent animals, and they know what they have to do to get a reward.”

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