Duke’s Neurohumanities Summer School Presentations

13:20 – Navigating the Memory Palace: Place Cells in Oral Literary Traditions

Since ancient times, characters like Cicero have utilized internal spatial arrangements of objects as powerful tools for memorization. Our presentation will explore the concept of a memory palace– an imagined location that harbors factual memories– and the role of such palaces for the recall of oral tradition. We will further explore the neurological basis of such spatial memory through O’Keefe and Mosers’ discovery of place and grid cells in the positioning system of the brain.

Laura Herman is a rising sophomore at Princeton University, planning to major in Neuroscience and receive a certificate in European Cultural Studies.  Her previous neurohumanities experience includes involvement with the university’s art museum, research at Harvard’s Vision Sciences Laboratory, and classical ballet training.

Savanna Hershman is a rising junior at Duke University majoring in Neuroscience with a certificate in Finance. Her academic interests center around the intersection of neuroscience and theatre, including both improvisational and scripted performances.

Camila Vargas is a rising sophomore at Duke University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. Her main interests involve the relationship between cognitive processes and art along with innovative ways in which art can serve as a pedagogical tool.

Sam Yin is a rising junior at Duke University from Ningbo, China. He majors in Statistical Science and minors in Neuroscience. His academic interests include statistical application in neuroscience and neurological basis of language and culture.

Ashley Williams is a rising senior at Duke University majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Psychology. Her interests include the functional presentation of psychopathology in the brain and the relation between cognitive plasticity and physical rehabilitation.


13:40 – Outer Faces, Interfaces: The Neuroliterary Basis of the Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis expresses the idea that as inanimate figures begin to exhibit animate appearance and behavior, humans (and perhaps other primates) experience negative affect. Recent behavioral research has explored the boundaries and theoretical basis of what primates recognize as a truly animate and realistic face. The fusiform gyrus in the parietal lobe has been correlated to facial recognition ability and may provide a basis for the determinants of animacy. Neuroscience studies suggest the importance of mirror neuron systems in contributing to our understanding of facial expression. Furthermore, the processing of eye movements plays a major role in our facial recognition ability. The importance of eyes in determining animacy is exemplified in literary texts that convey disgust at inauthenticity in faces.

Max Kramer is a rising junior and Alumni Endowed Undergraduate Scholar at Duke University pursuing a major in psychology and philosophy and a minor in economics. He has previously contributed to research in emotional mimicry and metacognition and is interested in behavioral economics and experimental philosophy.

Indrani Saha is a rising junior and Mellon Mays Fellow at Duke University pursuing a major in Cognitive Aesthetics. She has previously explored the intersection between neuroscience and visual art with the Bass Connections project “Art, Vision, and the Brain: An Exploration in Color and Brightness.”

Michael Mayer is rising junior at Duke University pursuing a major in neuroscience and a minor in chemistry. Aspiring to attend medical school, he works in the Fan Wang neurobiology lab at Duke studying the neural basis of touch sensory perception.

Yao Qi is a rising sophomore at Duke University pursuing a double major in  neuroscience and global health. Her previous involvement in neuroscience includes the Neuroplicity team of Duke Bass Connection, Neuroscience and Law Focus program.

Christiana Johnson is a rising junior pursuing a Neuroscience major and Bioethics minor at Dartmouth College. She was recently awarded a James O. Freedman Presidential Scholarship to pursue a neurohumanities- themed project focusing on the benefits of music in Alzheimer’s care.


14:00 – Proustian Proprioception: Spatial Awareness and Involuntary Memory

This presentation explores the writings of Marcel Proust through the lens of his atypical proprioceptive experience with his surroundings.  In numerous passages, the narrator of In Search of Lost Time articulates an understanding of his body as an external entity from his own mind. The narrator’s body schema, as engaged with implicit motor memory, merges with his implicit emotional memory of the space he inhabits.  Conscious proprioceptive awareness of his body is lost as his brain extracts emotion from motor movements within the domestic living space, thus creating a disconnect between learned experience and narrative memory: “…the mind…is fortunate in discovering, for without the help of custom it would never contrive, by its own efforts, to make any room seem habitable.” The overlap between body and bedroom contributes to the paradigm of involuntary memory in Proust’s work, since lived experience yields to living space.

Rachel Lamparelli is a rising sophomore at Duke University studying Neuroscience and Political Science on a pre-law track.  She participated in the Neurohumanities Program because of her interest in brain sciences and on-campus involvement as the chair of the VisualArts Committee and positions on both the ArtsAnnex and duARTS executive boards.

Alex Brito is a rising junior studying neuroscience, neurolinguistics, and French at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she is active in the French Honor Society, the Advancement of Neuroscience, and Arts and Alzheimer’s. Her research at UTK explores Second Language Acquisition in late language learners through analysis of event-related potentials using electroencephalography.

Harrison Ballard is a second-year student at Duke University majoring in Neuroscience and receiving a certificate in Markets and Management Studies. His experience with the humanities spans multiple disciplines, including scholarship study of art in Italy as well as studying music in a variety of contexts.

Alison Chan is a junior at Duke University majoring in biology. Alison is especially interested in neurodegenerative diseases; back at Duke, she is currently researching the role of retinal ganglion cell layer atrophy in Alzheimer’s Disease. During her time in Paris, Alison hopes to expand her understanding of neuroscience to the realm of visual arts and literature.

Catherine Yip is a rising junior at Duke University majoring in Biology with a minor in Psychology and Chemistry.  Her interest in neuroscience primarily stems from her family’s history with Alzheimer’s disease and the applications of neuroscience to human behavior and psychology.  Her experience with the humanities comes from having played the piano since she was 5 years old.


14:20 – Bridging the Gap: Neuroscience and Metaphors in Culture and Literature

Metaphors have the capacity to change people’s perceptions of themselves and their surroundings. Multiple studies have found evidence supporting the theory that processing and application of the metaphor is grounded neurologically in the brain’s association cortices. We consider a spectrum of metaphors rooted in both physiological effects and cultural contexts for our hypothesis that the more a metaphor is physiologically grounded, the easier it becomes to communicate its meaning cross-culturally. For example, metaphors that seek to convey the essence of anger usually involve elements of heat, regardless of the culture in which they are used. Conversely, it is difficult to effectively communicate ideas through metaphors that draw their meaning from context specific to their respective culture’s traditions. Through the use of a live demonstration and literary examples, we will demonstrate the metaphor’s ability to effectively communicate ideas within and across cultures.

Katalina Bock is a rising junior at Duke University currently studying Psychology, Markets and Management Studies, and Dance. She has incorporated her interests of psychology and dance during her internships at the Shades of Hope Treatment Center and The Daytop Substance Abuse Treatment Center. Her dance experience includes performing at the 2012 London Olympics, Carnegie Hall, and the Kennedy Center.

Gehua Tong is a rising sophomore at Duke university studying Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience.

Julian Pino is entering his third year at Duke University with plans to major in Neuroscience and minor in Philosophy and Chemistry. He is particularly interested in cognitive neuroscience in which he will begin research this summer pertaining to learning and memory processing.

Mckenzie Middlebrooks is entering her third year at Duke University, pursuing and major in Neuroscience and minors in Dance and German. Her experience in these fields includes working in the Duke Laboratory of Neurogenetics, the Wilbourn Infant Lab at Duke, and dancing with the Alabama Dance Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet.

Katherine Berko was raised in New York City and is a rising sophomore at Duke University.  She plans to double major in Psychology and English and minor in Education. In addition to her academic pursuits, Katherine sings classically and is a trained dancer.

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