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The Arts and the Brain: What Does Your Brain See? What Does Your Brain Hear?

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While you are listening to music or looking at a painting, your brain is busy. For decades, scientists have studied the biology of hearing and sight. Recent advances in neuroimaging allow a more sophisticated understanding of the brain processes underlying sound and vision. Speakers will address the neurobiology of how we respond to music, and how the brain processes form, symmetry, color and stereoscopic depth perception. Attendees will have an opportunity to experience what they have learned as they visit a special exhibit in the AAAS art gallery and listen to a musical performance during the reception following the presentations.

The Neuroscience and Society series is a partnership between the Dana Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Date and Time:

October 24 at 5:30 p.m. ET


AAAS Heaquarters Auditorium
1200 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

Guest Speakers:

Nina Kraus, Ph.D.

Nina Kraus is the Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences, Neurobiology & Physiology, and Otolaryngology at Northwestern University, where she directs the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. She and her team investigate the neurobiology of speech and music perception and learning-associated brain plasticity, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally. Studied populations include normal listeners throughout the lifespan, clinical populations (poor readers; autism; hearing loss) and auditory experts (musicians; bilinguals). She has pioneered the use of a biological approach that reveals how auditory signals are encoded by a hub of cognitive and sensory influences, which allows the fidelity of the brain's encoding of sound to be evaluated. Her research is published in scholarly journals such as Science, Nature Neuroscience, The Journal of Neuroscience, and a number of specialty disciplines.  Similarly, she speaks to broad audiences - scientific, educational, medical, and the general public.  Her research regularly receives public attention from media outlets such as The New York Times and National Public Radio.  Away from the lab, she enjoys playing guitar and piano and is an avid cyclist and boxer.

Christopher Tyler, Ph.D.

Christopher Tyler is the Director of the Smith-Kettlewell Brain Imaging Center at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco. His scientific interests are in visual perception and visual neuroscience. He has contributed to the study of the brain processing of form, symmetry, flicker, motion, color, and stereoscopic depth perception and has developed tests for the diagnosis of retinal and optic nerve diseases.  He has also studied photoreceptor dynamics and visual processing in other species such as butterflies and fish.  His work focuses on the effects of brain damage on eye movements and their brainstem control mechanisms. He has a longstanding interest in the interface between art and the scientific study of visual perception, including portraiture, the general principles of composition, and the historical development of space representation. Current studies include the structure of pictorial space throughout the history of art, particularly the dramatic emergence of geometric perspective in the 15th century.

Gary Vikan, Ph.D.

Gary Vikan was named Director of Baltimore's Walters Art Museum in 1994; he stepped down from that position at the end of March 2013. Prior to becoming Director, he served as the museum's Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Medieval Art.  Before coming to the Walters, Dr. Vikan was Senior Associate for Byzantine Art Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. An internationally known medieval art scholar, Dr. Vikan has curated a number of the most significant exhibitions in the museum's history, including Silver Treasure from Early Byzantium; Holy Image, Holy Space: Frescoes and Icons from Greece; Gates of Mystery: The Art of Holy Russia; and African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia. Under his leadership, the Walters assembled the finest collection of Ethiopian art outside of its native country. He has also been an innovator in bringing neuroscience into the museum, initially in an exhibition titled Beauty and the Brain. Trained as a Byzantinist, Dr. Vikan has published and lectured extensively on topics as varied as early Christian pilgrimage, medicine and magic, icons, the Shroud of Turin, fakes and forgeries, neuroscience and aesthetics, and Elvis Presley. He received his B.A. from Carleton College and his Ph.D. from Princeton University.


Alan I. Leshner

Alan Leshner has been Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Executive Publisher of the journal Science since December 2001. Before coming to AAAS, Leshner was Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He also has served as Deputy Director and Acting Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, held a variety of senior positions at the National Science Foundation, and served as a professor of Psychology at Bucknell University. Leshner received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Franklin and Marshall College, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physiological psychology from Rutgers University.

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