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Mapping the Mind

Deciphering the complex relationship between brain activity and the vastness of human consciousness is one of today's most compelling scientific challenges. New technologies have brought about an unprecedented ability to measure and manipulate brain activity.The cutting edge of brain science will now turn to the connection between this activity and complex behavior: in other words, "mapping" the mind. This next wave holds the potential to yield valuable insights into phenomena that span from brain abnormalities, to social behavior and decision-making, to the fundamental nature of human intelligence.

Penn Arts & Sciences' new investment in this area will solidify our commitment of more than a decade to enhancing our facilities, faculty and programs in the brain and behavioral sciences.

Watch Brush Family Professor of Biology Ted Abel’s  60-Second Lecture, “It’s Not a Dream, It’s a Memory: The Role of Sleep in Memory Storage.”

The brain’s prefrontal cortex is thought to be the seat of cognitive control, working as a kind of filter that keeps irrelevant thoughts, perceptions and memories from interfering with a task at hand.

A research team led by Sharon Thompson-Schill recently showed that inhibiting this filter can boost performance for tasks in which unfiltered, creative thoughts present an advantage. Thompson-Schill, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology, is a cognitive neuroscientist and chair of the psychology department. Her lab uses a variety of techniques including functional MRI and transcranial direct current stimulation to study the biological bases of human cognitive systems such as perception, memory, language, and thought.

A team of scientists and physicians led by Professor of Psychology Michael Kahana is undertaking a four-year effort to develop next-generation technologies to restore memory function in people who suffer from memory loss due to disease or traumatic injury. The project will combine research on the basic mechanisms of memory function with the development of systems designed to electrically stimulate discrete regions of the brain.

Kahana says that by “deciphering the unique spatiotemporal maps of good memory function in each participant, we can determine how to use brain stimulation to gently coax brain activity out of dysfunctional states and towards optimal ones.”

The Neural and Behavioral Sciences Building, scheduled to open in 2016, represents a major infrastructure investment in support of the Mapping the Mind initiative.

Situated next to James G. Kaskey Memorial Park, the NBS Building will create a life sciences corridor and promote collaboration across undergraduate programs by serving as the new home for Biology, Psychology, Biological Basis of Behavior, and the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management