Ayanna Thomas, PhD
PSYCHOLOGIST, TUFTS UNIVERSITY
“[bias] is a necessary requirement of the way we process information. there's a tension between being governed by bias and recognizing when you can get outside of that box.”
When is the last time you heard Edgar Allen Poe, traditional Japanese tattoos, and hippocampus in the same sentence?
Dr. Ayanna Thomas isn’t too concerned with fitting a mold. She left Catholic School to attend the Bronx High School of Science, where she found a home among so-called misfits. To this day, she sandwiches science between horror movies and gaming – striking the balance of every nerd’s dreams.
Her work, in many ways, aligns perfectly with her fascination of science fiction. She studies a psychological phenomenon known as “false memories”, where she’s added to our understanding of the many ways we can be completely wrong about the world. While we often think of memory as something that’s true and real and ours, her work suggests that it’s really not. Memory is unreliable and constantly being reconstructed, losing bits and pieces along the way. Entire memories can even be manufactured, with the individual having no idea that what they think they remember is closer to their imagination than reality.
These are the sorts of quirks of the brain that everyone should know about. Dr. Thomas does outreach work and believes that education should start talking about the way the self works at a very young age. We are far from perfect, and we have the science to better understand the roots of many shortcomings.
In her own career, she’s faced the consequences of colleagues not recognizing their own shortcomings. As a woman of color, she has faced casual racism and sexism her entire career, actively reminding herself and young students who may potential face similar challenges that - whether you're gaming, learning, or discovering - these encounters have nothing to do with what you’re capable of.