Duke Faculty Share Neuroscience Perspectives on COVID-19 Challenges

DIBS faculty.
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Geraldine Dawson, Greg Samanez-Larkin, Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Kevin LaBar, Brian Hare

COVID-19 is bringing new scientific, behavioral, and cultural challenges every day. The Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Faculty Network consists of 200 interdisciplinary neuroscience researchers from across Duke’s schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Law as well as the Pratt School of Engineering, Fuqua School of Business, and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Their research can help us understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is influencing people’s decision-making, behavior, choices, and physical and mental health. The following faculty interviews offer an interdisciplinary neuroscience perspective on some of the most challenging issues raised by the current pandemic.

Understanding ethics and morality during the pandemic

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Distinguished Professor of Practical Ethics, Kenan Institute for Ethics

Much of my work is on the psychology and neuroscience of moral judgments as well as the implications of neuroscience of decision-making for moral responsibility. I also run labs on moral artificial intelligence and on political polarization, and I work on psychiatric conditions and law. I have no discipline, but my research is nearly always about morality. The moral issues raised by COVID-19 are not only numerous but complex and subtle, so we should not be completely certain that our own moral judgments are correct. Our work has shown that, instead of imposing our moral views on others, it’s important to gather input from stakeholders, which includes everyone. Read more

Understanding the unique ways the pandemic affects individuals with autism and how to help

Geraldine Dawson, William Cleland Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, School of Medicine; Director, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; Director, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development

My research has focused on developing methods for early detection and treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and understanding brain function and development in individuals with autism. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing unique challenges for people with developmental disabilities, such as those on the autism spectrum. We offer some suggestions and resources. Read more

Why older and younger people make different decisions about how to respond to the pandemic

Greg Samanez-Larkin, Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Our research is focused on understanding how people feel and think at different stages of adulthood. Most of our studies are trying to figure out what motivates people to make wise choices as they age – from young adulthood to old age. There has been a lot of reporting and anecdotal social media complaining about teenagers and aging parents not taking this pandemic seriously – ignoring advice to social distance. We explore what the data tell us about age and decision-making. Read more

How the pandemic affects those already dealing with incarceration and mental health issues

Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Associate Professor of the Practice, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

I do community-engaged research, working with Durham’s Stepping Up Initiative, Crisis Intervention Team, and Criminal Justice Resource Center. These groups are particularly interested in improving outcomes for people in Durham who are involved with the criminal justice system and also have mental health issues. My team of collaborators and students has been analyzing data describing incarcerations and recidivism in this population. We are also beginning to examine the interactions of this population with Duke Health System, to explore ways that we can improve coordination. Read more

Why anxiety and stress related to COVID-19 affect cognitive functions

Kevin LaBar, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

My lab’s research focuses on how emotions bias cognitive processes in the human brain. We assay emotional reactions using behavioral reports and physiological responses, and we investigate how emotions impact brain function using neuroimaging methods in healthy individuals and in those with psychiatric disorders. Read more

How dogs can help us adjust to social distancing and other COVID-19 challenges

Brian Hare, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Director, Duke Canine Cognition Center

I want to understand how different types of cognition evolve, including in our own species.  Dogs have provided a powerful way to test ideas about how selection can shape psychology. We have applied what we learned to help working dogs. Like people, we have found individual dogs have different cognitive strengths that give them their unique personalities. Currently we are raising service dog puppies to examine how different socialization experiences might enhance their cognitive abilities. Our goal is to increase the chances they will grow up to be successful working dogs. Read more

Originally posted on the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences website