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General News

SNF Brain Insight Lecture on Memory as Narrative Power 

NEW YORK – The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Brain Insight Lecture series, hosted by Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, continued on April 3 with a fascinating presentation titled ‘Memory as Narrative Power.’

As noted in the event’s description: “Memory ties together the many events we experience over the minutes, years, and decades of our lives. It creates meaning for the narratives that form our identity and the stories we tell each other. Simply put, it allows us to make sense of our world. How does the brain organize memories and shape these stories? What happens to these processes as we age, and how can we maintain a healthy mind across the lifespan? In this event, three experts in memory research will bring perspectives from cellular, cognitive, and clinical approaches to explore the narrative that memory helps us form.”

Dr. Diana Li, Associate Director of Education and Training Initiatives at the Zuckerman Institute, gave the welcoming remarks, thanking everyone for attending, and noting that the April 3 lecture was the final one of the 2023-2024 season. “This series spotlights world-class researchers at the top of their field, addressing important scientific issues about the brain and mind that touch our day to day,” she said.

Dr. Diana Li gave the welcoming remarks at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Brain Insight Lecture, ‘Memory as Narrative Power,’ hosted by Columbia University’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute on April 3. Photo: TNH Staff

“With generous support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Columbia Zuckerman Institute continues our commitment to foster exceptional science and outstanding programming that highlight the ways that neuroscience can intersect with our lives,” Dr. Li noted. “This lecture series is really special because it’s paired closely with another one of our programs, the SNF Teacher Scholar Program which engages a cohort of two dozen secondary school teachers who bring this content into their classrooms across New York City.”

Dr. Li then introduced neuroscientist Dr. Julie Parato who served as host and moderator for the event. “Memory is a topic in neuroscience that is very exciting to me,” Dr. Parato said. “Memories in some way are who we are, but they are also a biological process and it has been exciting to watch the field explore the mechanisms that underlie memory.”

“I am a cellular molecular biologist working in the lab of Dr. Francesca Bartolini and we are studying if we can prevent some of the not-so-nice changes that we see in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Parato noted. She then introduced the speakers.

Christopher Baldassano, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, opened the event by sharing insights from his research on the neural processes that underlie memory. How does memory give rise to our personal narrative of the world— one that we can continually incorporate new experiences into? What techniques can we use to better arrange and access the multitude of information in our minds? By studying the ways that people can remember things more effectively, he examines how we can push the limits of our memory systems.

Jennifer Manly, PhD, Professor of Neuropsychology in the Department of Neurology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, then presented her work investigating the life course influences on cognition in older adults. In partnering with populations that have not traditionally been included in aging research, she uses methods tailored to measure memory among people with different cultural, linguistic, and educational backgrounds. Through examining risk and resilience factors for Alzheimer’s Disease, her research addresses a key concern in aging adults: holding onto the power to tell your story and have your story told.

Following the two presentations, Dr. Julie Parato moderated a discussion and Q&A with the speakers. Audience questions were welcomed, either submitted during registration or live during the event. Many of the questions related to aging well with regard to learning and memory and what steps can be taken for good brain health.

Video of the event is available on Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute YouTube channel: https://shorturl.at/uNOZ2.

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