The Neuroscience and Society Series

About the Series

The Neuroscience and Society series is a partnership between the Dana Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Eight events have been held, covering the following topics:

  • Aging Brain
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Neuroscience and the Law
  • Adolescent Brain
  • Neuroenhancement
  • Arts and the Brain
  • Sleep and Dreaming
  • Taste and Smell
  • Stress and the Brain
  • Illusion

If you wish to be added to the mailing list for future Neuroscience & Society events, please email Josh Ettinger

Past Events

Now You See it, Now You Don't. Is Anything Really as it Seems? The Science of Illusion [October 28, 2014]
Do you believe what you see? Do you trust your senses? These are just some of the questions posed by illusion, where confusion and clarity often merge and where what we perceive can be hugely different from physical reality. Since the brain is responsible for interpreting what our senses are telling us, as well as what we dream and what we remember or forget, the real and imagined share the same neural system. So when we experience an illusion, we may sense something that is not present or fail to see something that is. By studying this disconnect between perception and reality, scientists can learn about brain function and its relevance to mental health, decision making and the way we view ourselves and others. The event included a performance by Alain Nu, an illusionist, about whom the Washington Post wrote, will leave “audiences asking, ‘How’d he do that?’ Following the performance, psychiatrist and author Richard Restak, and Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, scientists who study various aspects of visual, sensory and cognitive neuroscience, discussed the science underlying what the audience had just experienced. 

Stressing About Stress--What Our Minds and Bodies are Going Through and Ways to Cope [September 18, 2014]                               Feeling a bit stressed? If so, you’re not alone. Stress is very much a part of being human; even animals experience stress. A little stress can be a good thing, but how can you tell the good from the bad, and too little from too much?  At this event, two scientists helped us better understand what our mind and body experience—good and bad—when we encounter stressful situations. They also discussed various “cures,” “treatments,” and coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, the extent to which they have been subjected to rigorous scientific research and which ones stand out among the others.

Smells Delicious and Good to Eat: How Your Brain Distinguishes Tastes and Aromas [May 6, 2014]
We all like to eat, especially our favorite dishes. And we all like pleasant aromas, such as freshly picked flowers. Why is it that some foods taste better than others, and why do different people like or dislike different foods? How does it happen that certain aromas appeal to us, while others make us hold our noses? And how do taste and aroma interact with each other? Neuroscientists are leading the way in finding answers to those questions, and others are using knowledge gained from science to satisfy the human palate and sense of smell. Speakers included a neuroscientist from the Monell Institute, and experts in wine, food, and fragrance. Participants learned how sommeliers choose and evaluate wines, how chefs create menus, and how perfumers and others create fragrances that are appealing. Following the program, participants enjoyed a special tasting reception and an interactive demonstration with perfumes.

Wake up, I'm Speaking: The Neuroscience of Sleep and Dreaming [March 11, 2014]
It seems that everybody, from comedians, to poets, to world leaders, have something to say about sleep. So why not scientists? Sleep, or the lack of it, is the focus of considerable research in the United States, where sleep disorders and sleep deprivation have been associated with poor cognitive performance, behavioral problems, accidents, ill health and other factors that adversely affect quality of life. When we do sleep, we also dream; in fact, during a typical lifetime, people spend an average of six years dreaming. In the past, dreams have been interpreted as omens of the future, representations of reality, and even divine messages from the gods. Nowadays, we tend to have slightly more rational views about dreams, but their significance and meaning remain a subject of debate in both science and public discourse. Speakers addressed what neuroscience research tells us about sleep, sleep disorders, the mechanisms and functions of dreaming, and the impact of sleep research on medicine and society.

The Arts and the Brain: What Does Your Brain See? What Does Your Brain Hear? [October 24, 2013]
When you listen to music or look at a painting, your brain is busy. Recent advances in neuroimaging allow a more sophisticated understanding of the brain processes underlying sound and vision. Speakers addressed the neurobiology of how we respond to music, and how the brain processes form, symmetry, color and stereoscopic depth perception. Attendees also had an opportunity to visit a special exhibit in the AAAS art gallery and to listen to a musical performance during the reception.

Neuroenhancement: Building an Improved Human Body and Mind [September 19, 2013]
Human enhancement is the notion that science and technology can be used to restore or expand cognitive and physical human capacities. It has received considerable public attention in recent years with the return of injured soldiers and the demand for prosthetic devices and with controversies surrounding the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports. This program focused on a diverse set of enhancements for mind and body, examining the science of what can be done, what might be done in the near and far future, and what should be done. The remarkable opportunities created by scientific advancements are accompanied by ethical and policy challenges that demand a broader public conversation.

What Are They Thinking? Exploring the Adolescent Brain [June 12, 2013]
Advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers to learn more about how the adolescent brain functions, from the everyday behavior of teenagers to how they cope with the challenges of disease, learning problems, and social cues. Speakers at this event addressed the development of the adolescent brain, the diseases and learning difficulties that seem to correlate with adolescence, and the policy initiatives undertaken by the federal government in response.

Neuroscience and the Law [April 25, 2013]
Research on the brain has shed new light on the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. These advances have not been lost on the legal system, where they raise serious issues for the law, from matters relating to the admissibility of evidence to decisions about criminal culpability. Speakers at this event addressed what neuroscience can and cannot tell us about human behavior; the ways in which neuroscience is entering the courtroom; and the challenges this emerging knowledge poses for the trier of fact.

The Science and Impact of Traumatic Brain Injury [October 23, 2012]
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has been the recent focus of many in the neuroscience research community, professional sports world and the military. Speakers at this event discussed the current state of neuroscience research on TBI in the context of sport and combat; the areas of research that seem most promising for preventing and treating TBI; and a personal account of the effects of TBI on U.S. soldiers.

The Aging Brain: What’s New in Brain Research, Treatment and Policy? [June 23, 2012]
As scientists continue to make advances in neuroscience, they are learning more about how the aging brain functions in health and disease.  Speakers at this event discussed what we know at the basic research level; what we still need to determine; how we can apply scientific findings to the clinical setting; and how we must develop humane and effective policies nationwide as our population ages. The progress of this research will touch all of us as we age, become caretakers for family members and; friends, and remain engaged citizens in helping to determine local and national policy.