Research Thought Leader
Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D.
Founder and Chief Director, Center for BrainHealth, University of Texas at Dallas
The Collaborative’s Research Thought Leaders help provide the strong research foundation upon which the Collaborative’s work rests. Each Thought Leader is nationally and internationally recognized in his/her own field and brings an extensive depth of experience and expertise. They also are adept at working across disciplines.
A Thought Leader will be featured in each of the upcoming Collaborative newsletters. We begin with Sandi Chapman, whose work in neuroscience helps underpin the work of the Collaborative. In a conversation with Lucinda Presley, Collaborative Chair, the two talked about Sandi’s work and its importance to the Collaborative.
Lucinda: What is the mission of the Center for BrainHealth and what are its contributions to society?
Sandi: The Center’s mission is to help people maximize their brain potential, their cognitive abilities and their overall performance. To do that, we have 120+ researchers and clinicians from the following fields: cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists, biostatisticians, medical staff, brain imagers, neuro-engineers, teachers, speech-language pathologists, and computer-gaming designers who develop technology-based eLearning platforms. These experts focus on discovering ways to strengthen the brain’s systems’ broad-based thinking networks and expand cognitive capacities to promote real-life functionality. Our team is interested in how the brain best learns and works efficiently to stay energized. This helps people face and solve the complexities of the world around them. We uniquely focus on how to empower individuals to harness their brain’s potential – by taking it to the next level of performance. The double win is that individuals, whether gifted or those who struggle with some disability, are able to increase functionality.
Lucinda: What is your individual research focus?
Sandi: I work across the lifespan to help people inoculate the brain against cognitive decline, making each day for that person better than the day before. This work also helps people rebound when the brain has had insults from such factors as poverty, depression, chemotherapy, anesthesia, brain trauma, sleep problems and drug or medication effects, to mention a few.
Lucinda: How does your research align with the Collaborative's work?
Sandi: The work of the Collaborative immensely inspires me to work even harder. The Collaborative is promoting innovation thinking in real life contexts. Innovative cognition is the most powerful function of the human brain. Our brain was designed to create new knowledge – not just be a vast fact storage-retrieval machine. Innovative cognition is the driver of brain health, not just for the brain’s neurotransmitters, but also for strengthening the cognitive system. Innovative thinking builds a more engaged brain. When we innovate, the brain can increase the production of dopamine, the “happy drug” as well as norepinephrine, the “faster learning drug”. Increasing student innovation thinking capacity will help them to solve the complexity of problems they face, even ones that that don’t yet exist today. Innovative thinking is important in all types of theaters, from sciences, technology, engineering and math to the arts and humanities. The Collaborative’s focus on higher-level reasoning to maximize our students’ potential better prepares them for college and the workplace. To improve the well-being of our society, we must introduce innovative cognition starting in youth to build lifelong desire for ingenuity.
Lucinda: What have you discovered in your research that points to the importance of the Collaborative's work?
Sandi: We have been able to show a major impact of learning performance across all content areas when we teach students how to learn, not what to learn. We train them to aggregate information across learning domains to create new ideas that they can apply to their own lives. This dynamic mental exercise engages students to become deeper-level thinkers, which serves to enhance the brain’s frontal networks and help with the brain’s executive function and problem-solving performance. Deeper level thinking is the power exercise that strengthens the brain’s most important networks to support agile and adept thinking in this rapidly changing world. In short, this mental training serves to build a futuristic brain.
This is what the Collaborative is dedicated to: elevating abilities to aggregate knowledge across disciplines to innovate and create new ideas, solutions and broad-based perspectives. We must teach students to generate new understandings and applications of knowledge and innovate instead of just spitting back the knowledge they are given.
Lucinda: How do you see the Thought Leaders and the Collaborative benefitting from their work together?
Sandi: The Thought Leaders benefit from the Collaborative because we learn practical applications and new directions for our research. This makes our research more meaningful, since it’s driven by practical application in classrooms. Science without application is unproductive. The Collaborative provides us insight into the hurdles and opportunities in the educational setting. We, in turn, help the Collaborative develop new ways of understanding the potential of the human brain and how it best learns. We need to know what constitutes innovative thinking and problem-solving and what optimizes learning in the young brain. The Collaborative is helping develop that metaview. It has inspired me to (1) expand assessments of both higher order reasoning and innovative cognition to measure gains from the multitude of educational practices and (2) to advance classroom teaching-learning with a guide of cognitive strategies to hone these valuable cognitive capacities..
Lucinda: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Sandi: When I think about our students, I realize that health starts and ends with brain health. For example, factors such as stress and poor sleep have a significant impact on humans’ brain health. What is the learning environment in our classrooms – does it empower student learning or cause it to self-destruct? We, at the Center for BrainHealth, are dedicated to working with the Collaborative to build teaching and learning environments in classrooms and corporations that empower individuals to embrace with confidence the control they have to harness their unlimited potential to increase their brain performance.
The Collaborative extends deepest gratitude to Sandi Chapman and to all of the Thought Leaders for their enthusiastic support of the Collaborative and its work.
For more information on Dr. Chapman’s work, go to
First-Ever SMART Think Tank for Adolescents and Link to the Frontiers article for Adolescent Reasoning