Q A &
JANA SCHAICH BORG ON DUKE, DATA, AND MIDS
GIST • SPRING 2017
just treat each other better? That’s the question that drives all of the research I do. And these days I’m trying to figure out not only what parts of the brain I would have to tickle, but also how I could learn to tickle them without putting anything through our skull. As for why I work with both human and animal participants, tackling a phenomenon like human violence requires deep and simultaneous appreciation of behavior and mechanisms. We need to understand the details and complexity of how humans behave, but we also need to understand the mechanisms the brain uses to create such complex behaviors if we are ever going to have any real hope of learning how to change those behaviors. Human behavior is, of course, best studied in humans, but brain mechanisms are most efficiently studied in non-human model systems. My challenge is to identify and integrate the aspects of human behavior and rodent mechanistic neuroscience
that are necessary to efficiently change the way we interact with one another. You are a new SSRI faculty member. How does your research fit with the Institute’s interdisciplinary approach? My research requires deep expertise in neuroscience, psychology, statistics, engineering, and now, programming and data management. My research can’t get done by me alone. On the flip side, I’d like to think— very humbly—that my research can’t be done without someone with my specific background either. When I heard about SSRI’s vision, I immediately thought, “Wow, it would be so exciting to be in that environment and to help realize that mission!” I am biased, of course, but I love the idea that Duke has created a place where important problems that are too big to be tamed by one discipline or department alone can be solved.
D U K E U N I V E R S I T Y P H OTO G RA P H Y
You work with both human and animal participants to study how and why we make social and moral decisions. What led you to this type of research and what do you hope to achieve? Almost every researcher has something in their head or their life that gets them out of bed every morning and motivates them to tackle the hard challenges they’ve voluntarily put on their plate. For me, that thing is violence. It is very difficult for me to get my head wrapped around the fact that humans intentionally hurt each other. The only way I could handle learning about such events is if I tried to do something to stop them or at least understand them. The most effective approach to answer these questions was to try to understand what happens in our brain when we make decisions that affect others. In other words, what would we have to tickle in our brains in order to make us refrain from violence, and more generally,