Denise Park, PhD, Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University Distinguished Chair of Behavioral and Brain Science, University of Texas Regents’ Research Scholar; Director, Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas Website | Publications
Abstract: There is clear evidence that sustained experiences may affect both brain structure and function. Thus, it is quite reasonable to posit that sustained exposure to a set of cultural experiences and behavioral practices will affect neural structure and function. The burgeoning field of cultural psychology has often demonstrated subtle behavioral differences in the way individuals process information—differences that appear to be a product of cultural experiences. I will present evidence that the collectivistic and individualistic biases of East Asian and Western cultures, respectively, affects neural structure and function. I argue that there is limited evidence that cultural experiences affect brain structure and considerably more evidence that neural function is affected by culture, particularly activations in ventral visual cortex—areas associated with perceptual processing.
Bio: Dr. Park has spent her career studying how the mind ages, making seminal contributions to our understanding of how the operating speed and capacity of the human brain changes as we get older, how cultural experiences can shape brain activity, and how the aging brain might protect itself from structural degradation to maintain cognitive performance.
She currently directs the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, which aims to identify a “neural signature” in middle-aged adults that will help predict who will and will not age well, as well as who might be at risk of Alzheimer’s disease long before symptoms appear. She also leads the Synapse Project, which is systematically testing whether an engaged lifestyle can slow down the process of cognitive aging by facilitating the development of supportive neural scaffolds.
Dr. Park has been continuously funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) for more than 25 years, and in 2006, was honored with a prestigious MERIT award. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Psychological Science and a recipient of the American Psychological Association’s award for Distinguished Contributions to the Psychology of Aging. She recently served on an international panel spearheaded by the NIA and the Alzheimer’s Association that issued new criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and a new research agenda for studying the earliest stages of the disease, and she currently chairs the external scientific advisory board for the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from Albion College in Michigan and her PhD in experimental psychology from the State University of New York at Albany. She moved to UT Dallas in 2008 after professorships at the University of Georgia, University of Michigan, and University of Illinois.