Neuroscientist Chantel Prat discusses the personal and professional developments that triggered her interest in the human brain and how we differ.

In 2020 the forced isolation of pandemic-related lockdowns led many of us to attend virtual fitness classes and undertake home baking projects. Chantel Prat wondered why she wasn’t interested in taking part. “I couldn’t help but notice and be frustrated by the fact that my brain was responding to the pandemic in a way that seemed very different from the people around me,” she says.

At the time Prat was writing her book The Neuroscience of You. Published in 2022, it explores how different brains make sense of the world. “I've always been interested in the relationship between the mind and the brain, at the level of the individual, not how do brains work in general,” she says.

“Right now I feel like we’re living through a great social paradox,” she adds. “People are discussing the importance of having diverse minds and brains and decision-making spaces. But yet, we don’t seem to be getting any better at talking through our differences.”

To illustrate her point, Prat, who is based at the University of Washington in Seattle, uses the 2015 online image of a dress which went viral and generated heated debates about its colour. Was it white and gold, or blue and black? “This is just a tiny example of how our experiences shape this world-building that we're doing, the way our brains create inferences and connect the dots, even for something as elementary as colour.” she says.

She also recalls how, as a single mother aged 19, she first recognised that her baby daughter Jasmine perceived the world in ways that surprised her, based on lab experiments that she participated in.

This is the seventh episode in Tales from the Synapse, a 12-part podcast series produced in partnership with Nature Neuroscience and introduced by Jean Mary Zarate, a senior editor at the journal.

The series features brain scientists from all over the world who talk about their career journeys, collaborations and the societal impact of their research.