Brain & Society

Interdisciplinary Themes

Bass Connections projects, courses and summer programs are aligned with the following themes:

Led by the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

Many of the core problems of our time – climate change, financial crises, addiction, social inequality – arise from individuals and their choices. Brain research on cognition, emotions, expression and decision-making will be translated in this theme to address collective challenges and increase understanding of what makes us human.

Bass Connections in Brain & Society engages undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty from different programs and majors in an immersive curriculum that combines research and coursework into a common program of scholarship in multidisciplinary project teams.

Curricular and project elements build connections between basic research in neuroscience (and related biological sciences) and socially challenging questions in medicine, the humanities, public policy, economics, ethics and law, to understand issues such as physical and social responses to transformative events; the workings of the brain in rhetoric and the arts; memory in legal testimony; and the role of decision processes in shaping our institutions and public policies. Each Brain & Society team tackles a current issue relating to the brain and its link to society as a whole.

Brain & Society Project Teams


Distinct approaches to ethics scholarship, ethics education and the regulation of ethics have evolved independently in a number of institutions designed to harness competition for social benefits, such as in markets, law, democratic politics, sports and scientific research. They all identify a... Read more about Cheating, Gaming and Rule Fixing: Challenges for Ethics across the Adversarial Professions (2018-2019) »

Bass Connections team members

Consumer electroencephalogram devices are marketed and sold to consumers for tracking and improving their brain activity through neurofeedback. These devices raise concerns about data gathering and sharing practices because of their unprecedented ability to gather real-time brain activity in... Read more about Consumer EEG, Mental and Emotional States, Privacy and the Brain (2018-2019) »

Hand holding phone with image of person meditating

Social isolation and lack of intimate relationships have been tied to severe adverse consequences, including poor health outcomes and premature mortality. The epidemic of social isolation may be a strong driving factor behind the increasing rates of mental health problems in the U.S. Given the... Read more about Emotional Connection: Developing a Mobile Intervention for Social and Emotional Dysfunction (2018-2019) »

Bass Connections team members

Since 2007, Duke Global Neurosurgery and Neuroscience has been partnering to strengthen Uganda’s health system in order to improve neurosurgical care. The long-term vision includes having 20 Uganda-trained neurosurgeons equitably spread across the country, increasing the number of facilities... Read more about Evaluating Interventions Aimed at Improving Neurosurgical Patient Outcomes in Uganda (2018-2019) »

Brain lifting weights

Exercise is associated with mental and cognitive health benefits including reduced stress reactivity, depression, anxiety, dementia and ADHD symptoms, as well as improvements in body image, self-esteem and learning. However, exercise is not beneficial to everyone at all times. Research is needed to... Read more about Exercise and Mental Health (2018-2019) »

Graphic of female person jumping rope

Physical activity and exercise have emerged as important factors associated with lower risks of cognitive decline in normal aging and neurodegenerative disease. This project will explore the molecular and cellular effects of exercise on brain neuroanatomy and function using a mouse model of... Read more about Exercise Therapy and Brain Health: Implications for Alzheimer's Disease and Aging (2018-2019) »

fountain pen and paper

Despite successful treatment of childhood cancer, the emotional effects are lasting. Studies have shown that adult survivors of pediatric cancer are more likely to experience physical and psychological late effects of their illness. Parents and caregivers also report significant emotional distress... Read more about Expressive Writing for Resilience in Adult Pediatric Oncology Survivors and Their Caregivers (2018-2019) »

Faces and computer hardware

Autonomous agents are beginning to interact with humans on a regular basis. Self-driving cars are appearing on local streets, and various types of drones are flying through skies over populated areas. These autonomous agents have promise to provide many services that will benefit society, but they... Read more about Moral Artificial Intelligence (2018-2019) »

Youth athlete wearing helmet

In children, brain injury is both common and complex. Sports-related concussions in children and adolescents account for 30-60% of all pediatric concussions. Though mild traumatic brain injury is an important public health issue for both the general pediatric population and youth athletes,... Read more about Oculomotor Response as an Objective Assessment for Mild TBI in the Pediatric Population (2018-2019) »

Health worker holding prescription pills

In the U.S., about half of the 3.2 billion prescriptions dispensed annually are not taken as instructed, leading to 125,000 preventable deaths and wasted medical expenditure amounting to $290 billion a year. Medication nonadherence is a significant issue worldwide and across all socioeconomic... Read more about Patients' Journey to Medication Adherence (2018-2019) »

Abstract head/mind

When faced with a moral decision, people often have many diverse reasons for and against the possible choices. Many philosophers argue that making and revising moral decisions ought to be a matter of deliberating over reasons, because reasons serve to favor or to justify choices for action. Duke... Read more about Remember Why You Should Do It? Memory and Reasons in Moral Decision-making (2018-2019) »

Caregiver and patient

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of the top ten diseases without treatment to prevent, cure or slow its progression. As the disease progresses, the loss of critical skills makes navigating day-to-day living impossible without help from... Read more about Transforming Alzheimer's Disease Care through Integrating Caregivers (2018-2019) »

Image of brains

The worldwide economic burden associated with caring for patients with schizophrenia has doubled in the last 10 years. Patients with schizophrenia are high utilizers of emergency department (ED) services because of relapse, which may be caused by psychoactive substance use, not taking medications... Read more about Using Machine Learning to Generate Clinical Prediction Rules for Clinical Outcomes in Schizophrenia (2018-2019) »

Woman exercising

Most people know that being more physically active is good for them, but many still don’t do it. While clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of exercise programs for enhancing cognition and well-being in older age, a persistent challenge is how to motivate aging adults to engage in... Read more about Using Neuroscience to Optimize Digital Health Interventions across Adulthood (2018-2019) »

Brain & Society Courses

Gateway Courses

NEUROSCI 101: Biological Bases of Behavior (Team-based Learning)

Spring 2019
Instructor: Christina Williams

This course provides an introduction to the methods, models and reasoning that have led to discoveries about brain-behavior relations, and a critical evaluation of the current theories that guide our thinking about the neurobiology, development and evolution of sensory and cognitive processes,... Read more about Biological Bases of Behavior (Team-based Learning) »

NEUROSCI 153FS: Drugs and the Law

Fall 2018
Instructor: Nicole Schramm-Sapyta

Explore the relationship between addictive drugs and the law. Examine mechanisms by which drugs of abuse affect the brain and decision-making on the individual level, and consequences of those effects on the societal level, then examine how society responds to these behaviors in terms of attitudes... Read more about Drugs and the Law »

Other Undergraduate Courses

NEUROSCI 267: Neuroethics

Spring 2019
Instructor: Scott Huettel, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

This course will focus on emerging ethical controversies concurrent with advances in neuroscience. Background material that will be covered includes concepts and methods in neuroscience and theories of ethics and morality from philosophy, law and other fields. Read more about Neuroethics »

NEUROSCI 278: Sex/Gender - Nature/Nurture: Intersections of Biology and Society

Fall 2018
Instructor: Ara Wilson, Christina Williams

This course will explore how debates about sexuality, sex and gender hinge on radically different ideas about relative effects of biological forces vs. social forces, or nature vs. nurture. The course changes terms of arguments about sexuality and gender and nature/nurture. Read more about Sex/Gender - Nature/Nurture: Intersections of Biology and Society »

NEUROSCI 289: Music and the Brain

Instructor: Jan Tobias Overath, Scott Lindroth

This course explores the musical perception and performance from artistic, subjective and neuroscientific perspectives. Read more about Music and the Brain »

NEUROSCI 333S: Neuroscience and Nutrition

Spring 2019
Instructor: Minna Ng, Franca Alphin

This is an interdisciplinary course examining neurobiological mechanisms and nutrition. Students will learn how nutrients and eating behaviors promote brain health and wellness as well as how to differentiate foods grown on smaller farms versus those produced for grocery stores. Students will also... Read more about Neuroscience and Nutrition »

Undergraduate/Graduate Courses

NEUROSCI 595: Language, Music and Dementia: Neuroscience Approaches

Spring 2019
Instructor: Edna Andrews

This course will explore the neuroscience data on cognitive processing of languages and music in healthy subjects and pathology. Specific attention will be given to the interaction of language(s) and music in the brain, music therapy and dementia and multilingualism and dementia. Read more about Language, Music and Dementia: Neuroscience Approaches »