#73: Tara Thiagarajan on Brains—All 7 Billion of Them

Tara Thiagarajan is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Sapien Labs. Based in Washington, DC, Sapien Labs is a non-profit organization whose mission is to take brain diversity seriously. Most research in psychology and neuroscience treats the brain as a kind of monolithic entity, as if every brain were the same. But we know that's not true: there are important differences in the brain not only between individuals, but within the same individual from day-to-day. We also know that psychology and neuroscience have historically focused on a skewed sample of mostly white, mostly American, mostly undergraduate participants. Tara's goal with Sapien Labs is to truly account for what it means to look at differences in brains among all people on the planet. One of their in-progress projects is the Human Brain Diversity Project. Over the next five years, this project will "build an open database of 40,000 individuals across 4 countries and continents consisting of EEG recordings along with extensive information about demographics, lifestyle, technology use, diet and cognitive and mental health aspects." One of their papers, published this year in Nature Scientific Reports, showed the effect of "stimulus poverty" on brain physiology. They showed that the different stimuli people encounter on an average day—from phone use, to travel, to reading, and beyond—correlate with different physiological signatures in the brain, as measured by EEG. I found Tara's projects, as well as her overall story, very fascinating. I'm excited to see how those projects continue to develop in the coming years.